The issue of wills and inheritances is dramatic enough to be put into a movie. Of course, for any plot to be complete, the decedent (legal term for the deceased) must have died intestate (without a will), or left a secret will behind a brick in the chimney of the ancestral home somewhere. The actual legal process is quite messier, is hardly finished in one-and-a-half hours, and has more aftershocks than an earthquake.
The History of Probate Courts
In the 14th century United Kingdom, a probate clause would be added by the scribes to a transcribed copy of a will after it was validated in court. It simply said that the will was found valid on a certain day, with So-and-So named executor and administrator of the will.
What Is A Probate Court?
A probate court deals with all the “retitling” or transfer of property from the decedent to the heirs named in his will, if he has made a will. However, if the decedent died intestate, the probate court deals with the distribution of property according to the state laws.
It finds the will an Executor (usually named in the will) or an Administrator (appointed by the court when in intestate conditions) to distribute the property in place of the decedent. This involves asking either executor or administrator if they are willing to lead the distribution of property, and finding or appointing another if they refuse.
The probate court also deals with the aftershocks of a validated will. Questions of validity of a will, protests against the administration of the estate, appeals, and so forth are all processed by the probate courts. The courts also have to deal with the issue of appointing yet another executor or administrator if beneficiaries of the will are not happy with the administration.
Is There A Federal Probate Code?
There is such thing as a Uniform Probate Code of the United States, written in 1969 and revised (latest) in 2008. However, it was not adopted by all the states, and cannot be used as the standard for those examining the law. Rather, specific state laws should be considered when understanding the probate in one’s home town.
What Do State Codes Provide For?
At the very least, State Probate Codes make provisions for decedents who die intestate, and for the process of finding an executor or administrator for the decedent’s estate. Other parts of the code provide for the protection of minors whose parents die intestate, or for their guardianship until they reach the age of majority. And then of course, the state probate codes need to rule on questions of joint accounts, joint property holdings, and other such questions–especially if the joint holder is not the spouse.
Probate courts are very much like Disaster Risk Reduction and Management departments. They do everything they can to lessen the effect of the earthquake (the validated will) by dealing with as many issues as they can before the validation. They are then in charge of dealing with the aftershocks. A necessary part of the justice system, they often have a difficult and sometimes thankless job.