What is “Probate?”

The LawMost people have heard the word “probate,” but may not be sure what, exactly, a probate is.

Probate refers to the court proceedings and processes required by state law to pass a person’s “estate” to those designated to receive it.  The word “estate” means all the property held in a person’s name when they die.  For example, most people have financial assets like bank accounts, brokerage accounts, or retirement savings accounts.  Many people own real estate such as a personal residence and may own vacation or investment real estate.  Other common assets include tangible personal property (i.e. clothes, cars, collectibles, electronics, etc.), life insurance policies, and safe deposit boxes.

In Utah probate is required when a person dies with an estate worth $100,000 or more, or if they own any real estate.  If probate is required, the estate assets will be inaccessible to the inheritors until the probate is commenced.

So, how does a person begin a probate in Utah.  The first step is to file an application for probate in the district court in the county were the person last resided.  The application must include specific information about the person who died (the “decedent”), the decedent’s currently living heirs, whether the decedent had a will, as well as other important information.  The application must also identify a person who is designated, or wishes to be, the “personal representative” of the estate.  Once appointed by the court, the personal representative will receive authority from the court to take control of the estate assets, contact heirs and creditors, pay estate debts, sell estate property, and ultimately distribute estate money and assets to the appropriate inheritors.

At first glance, probate may seem straight-forward.  However, it can be confusing, time consuming, and expensive to have to deal with the required court proceedings.  Also, because probate is conducted in the courts, it is a public process.  For these reasons, many people prefer to avoid probate, if possible.

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