At death, your will goes through probate. Narrowly defined, probate (i.e., probate of the will or admitting the will to probate) simply means the process by which your last will is determined to be your final dispositive statement and which confirms the appointment of the person or institution you have named to administer your estate.
The term probate is also used in the larger sense of probating your estate. In this sense, probate means the process by which assets are gathered, applied to pay debts, taxes and expenses of administration, and distributed to those designated as beneficiaries in the will. The executor or personal representative named in the will is in charge of this process, and probate provides an orderly method for administration of the estate.
The executor is held accountable by the beneficiaries (and sometimes is supervised formally by a probate court). The executor is entitled to a reasonable fee or commission. Probate law generally encourages or provides for partial distribution during the period of administration; assets may generally be distributed in kind rather than sold during this time. The tax laws generally focus the responsibility for death tax filings and payments on the executor under a will. Thus, the choice of an executor is an important one.
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Michael L. Cahill is an attorney and certified public accountant providing estate planning, probate and tax services in the St. Petersburg, Seminole, Largo, Clearwater and Florida gulf beach communities.