What is Probate?

What is Probate?

The term “probate” is generally used to refer to the legal process whereby a person’s estate is administered after his or her death.

During the probate process, a personal representative (also referred to as an executor) is appointed by the Court. The personal representative is responsible for settling and distributing the deceased person’s estate. This process typically involves identifying and collecting all estate property, paying the deceased person’s debts and taxes, including any estate taxes, settling any creditor claims, and distributing the property remaining after all debts, taxes, claims and expenses have been paid to the decedent’s beneficiaries pursuant to the terms of the Last Will and Testament (if the decedent had a Will) or to the decedent’s heirs pursuant to Maine’s intestacy laws (if the decedent didn’t have a Will).

Should I hire an Attorney to assist me?

If you want someone to guide you through the legal and financial complexities of dealing with the death of a loved one, then you should hire an attorney. An experienced probate attorney will make the probate process less stressful and confusing for you. The fees charged by the attorney can be paid from the decedent’s estate.

How long does Probate take?

Probate typically takes between nine months to two years to complete, depending upon the value and complexity of the estate. Delays can be expected if a federal or Maine Estate Tax Return is required, if there is a Will contest, if the beneficiaries are fighting over property or object to any actions taken by the personal representative, or if there are complex assets (i.e., family owned business).

Is Probate expensive?

The costs associated with probate vary depending upon the value and the complexity of the estate. Maine’s Probate Courts charge a filing fee based upon the value of the decedent’s estate. Currently, if an estate is valued at $10,000, the filing fee is $20.00; if an estate is valued at $100,000, the filing fee is $190.00; and if an estate is valued at $1 million, the filing fee is $700.00. The Probate Court will also charge additional fees for various required notices and abstracts. Cumberland County Probate Court’s fee schedule can be found at: http://www.cumberlandcounty.org/317/Probate-Court. In addition to Probate Court fees, an estate typically incurs legal fees, accounting fees and appraisal fees.

Can I avoid Probate?

In Maine, the probate process is typically an efficient and cost effective method for distributing a person’s property upon death. However, you may desire to avoid probate to minimize delay, save on probate court fees, and protect privacy. An estate planning attorney can advise you on the steps you need to take during your lifetime to avoid probate upon your death.

Stephanie Strouse is an estate planning and probate attorney at Drummond & Drummond, LLP in Portland, Maine. If you would like to speak to Stephanie about the probate process or about estate planning to avoid probate, please contact her at (207) 774-0317.