Planning for Death Taxes in Montana
Working with Our Estate Planning Clients

Probate / Estate Administration

When a loved one passes away, his or her estate often goes through a court-managed process called probate or estate administration where the assets of the deceased are managed and distributed.  If your loved-one owned his or her assets through a well drafted and properly funded living trust, it is likely that no court-managed administration is necessary, though the successor trustee needs to administer the distribution of the deceased’s assets.  The length of time needed to complete the probate of an estate depends on the size and complexity of the estate and the local rules and schedule of the probate court.

Every probate estate is unique, but most involve the following steps:

  • Filing of a petition with the proper probate court.
  • Notice to heirs under the Will or to statutory heirs (if no Will exists).
  • Petition to appoint Executor (in the case of a Will) or Administrator for the estate.
  • Inventory and appraisal of estate assets by Executor/Administrator.
  • Payment of estate debt to rightful creditors.
  • Sale of estate assets.
  • Payment of estate taxes, if applicable.
  • Final distribution of assets to heirs.

The Inheritor's Solution™

Our Unique Process for Probate Estate Settlement
  • Right Fit Conversation

    We take the time to discuss with the family the decedent’s estate and how it would be administered. This helps us decide if we are the Right Fit for each other.

  • The Jumpstart

    We evaluate the decedent’s Last Will and Testament or determine intestate succession, review the assets of the estate and determine if a probate is necessary for your unique situation.

  • The Probate Initiator

    We meet with the Personal Representative to sign documents to initiate the probate with the court.

  • The Estate Administrator

    The bulk of the work is done during this phase. We complete a number of administrative tasks including gathering asset information, obtaining valuations, and more.

  • The Probate Resolution

    Once all the assets of the estate have been identified and marshalled, we work with the Personal Representative to compile an accounting, compute distributions and facilitate any tax filings.

  • The Inheritance Implementor

    We assist the Personal Representative with paying expenses and making final distributions of the estate to heirs and devisees. We assist with closing all estate accounts opened during the administration. Finally, the Court issues a Decree of Final Discharge or the Personal Representative signs a Sworn Statement to Close the Estate.

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if someone objects to the Will?

An objection to a Will, also known as a “Will contest” is a fairly common occurrence during the probate proceedings and can be incredibly costly to litigate. In order to contest a Will, one has to have legal “standing” to raise objections.  This usually occurs when, for example children are to receive disproportionate shares under the Will, or when distribution schemes change from a prior Will to a later Will.  In addition to disputes over the tangible distributions, Will contests can be a quarrel over the person designated to serve as Executor.

 

Does probate administer all property of the deceased?

Probate is primarily a process through which title is transferred from the name of the deceased to the names of the beneficiaries. Certain types of assets are what is called “non-probate assets” do not go through probate.  These include:

  • Property in which you own title as “joint tenants with right of survivorship”.  Such property passes to the co-owners by operation of law and do not go through probate.
  • Retirement accounts such as IRA and 401(k) accounts where there are designated beneficiaries.
  • Life insurance policies where there are designated beneficiaries.
  • Bank accounts with “pay on death” (POD) or “transfer on death” (TOD) designations or “in trust for” designations.
  • Property owned by a living trust.  Legal title to such property passes to successor trustees without having to go through probate.

 

Do I get paid for serving as an Executor?

Executors are reimbursed for all legitimate out-of-pocket expenses incurred in the process of management and distribution of the deceased estate. In addition, you are entitled to statutory fees, which vary depending on complexity and on the size of the probate estate. The Executor has to fulfill his or her fiduciary duties on behalf of the estate with the highest degree of integrity and can be held liable for mismanagement of estate assets in his or her care. It is advised that the Executor retain an attorney and an accountant to advise and assist him with his or her duties.

 

How much does probate cost? How long does it take?

The cost and duration of probate can vary substantially depending on a number of factors such as the value and complexity of the estate, the existence of a Will and the location of real property owned by the estate. Will contests or disputes with alleged creditors over the debts of the estate can also add significant cost and delay. Common expenses of an estate include executors fees, attorneys fees, accounting fees, court fees, appraisal costs, and surety bonds. Most estates are settled though probate in about 9 to 24 months, assuming there is no litigation involved.

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P.O. Box 1484
Great Falls, MT 59401

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