In general, the probate process involves collecting the decedent's assets, liquidating liabilities, paying necessary taxes, and distributing property to heirs. Probate procedures are governed by state law and have been the subject of debate and reform since the 1960s. The Uniform Probate Code (UPC) was first proposed in 1969 by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws and the House of Delegates of the American Bar Association. The prime focus of the UPC is to simplify the probate process. The UPC, which has been amended numerous times, has been adopted in its entirety by 16 states: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah. The other 36 states have adopted some part of the UPC but still retain distinct procedures.
One way to avoid U.S. Federal estate and gift taxes is to distribute the property in incremental gifts during the person's lifetime. Individuals may give away as much as $15,000 per year (in 2018) without incurring gift tax. Other tax free alternatives include paying a grandchild's college tuition or medical insurance premiums free of gift tax—but only if the payments are made directly to the educational institution or medical provider.
There are many different types of grants of representation, each one designed to cover a particular circumstance. The most common cover the two most common situations—either the deceased died leaving a valid will or they did not. If someone left a valid will, it is more than likely that the grant is a grant of probate. If there was no will, the grant required is likely to be a grant of administration. There are many other grants that can be required in certain circumstances, and many have technical Latin names, but the general public is most likely to encounter grants of probate or administration. If an estate has a value of less than £5,000.00 or if all assets are held jointly and therefore pass by survivorship, for example to a surviving spouse, a grant is not usually required.
In the public mind, the term “probate” is often associated with expense, delay, suffering and, sometimes, prolonged legal disputes. While there are many probate myths and misconceptions, it is basically a court-supervised method of handling the property of a deceased individual. During probate, the court will appoint someone to be in charge of the deceased person’s financial affairs, property, assets, and debts. Outstanding debts are addressed, and the remaining property is distributed to the heirs of the deceased.
Some of the decedent's property may never enter probate because it passes to another person contractually, such as the death proceeds of an insurance policy insuring the decedent or bank or retirement account that names a beneficiary or is owned as "payable on death", and property (sometimes a bank or brokerage account) legally held as "jointly owned with right of survivorship".
In a formal probate proceeding, a hearing must be held to establish the death of the testator, the residency of the decedent, the genuineness of the will, its conformance with statutory requirements for its execution, and the competency of the testator at the time the will was made. These requirements are usually fulfilled by the attesting witnesses who were present at the time the will was made and who certify that it was properly executed. The number of attesting witnesses is prescribed by law. If fewer than the required number witness a will, it will be declared void, and the testator's property will pass according to the laws of descent and distribution.
If the decedent died with a will, the will usually names an executor (personal representative), who carries out the instructions laid out in the will. The executor marshals the decedent's assets. If there is no will, or if the will does not name an executor, the probate court can appoint one. Traditionally, the representative of an intestate estate is called an administrator. If the decedent died with a will, but only a copy of the will can be located, many states allow the copy to be probated, subject to the rebuttable presumption that the testator destroyed the will before death.
Intentional destruction: pursuant to Section 14 of the Wills Act of Malaysia a will can be burnt, torn or otherwise intentionally destroyed by the testator or a third party in the presence of the testator and under their direction, with the intention to revoke the will. Accidental or malicious destruction by a third party does not render the revocation effective.
Signing of Will. The Will must be attested by two or more witnesses in the presence of the testator and each other. A beneficiary or his/her spouse cannot be a witness to the will. No beneficiary or his/her spouse will be entitled to receive any devise, legacy, estate, interest, gift or appointment if the beneficiary or his/her spouse is the attesting witness to the will.
In West Malaysia and Sarawak, wills are governed by the Wills Act 1959. In Sabah, the Will Ordinance (Sabah Cap. 158) applies. The Wills Act 1959 and the Wills Ordinance applies to non-Muslims only. Section 2(2) of the Wills Act 1959 states that the Act does not apply to wills of persons professing the religion of Islam. For Muslims, inheritance will be governed under Syariah Law where one would need to prepare Syariah compliant Islamic instruments for succession.
An agreement among heirs and beneficiaries not to contest a will is a way to avoid a costly will contest proceeding. The heirs and beneficiaries negotiate a settlement that may defeat the intention of the testator in how the assets are distributed. A settlement will be valid if all interested parties agree, but it must not exclude anyone entitled to property under the will. Under some statutes the compromise or settlement must be submitted to the probate court for approval.
Estate planning is the process of anticipating and arranging, during a person's life, for the management and disposal of that person's estate during the person's life, in the event the person becomes incapacitated and after death. The planning includes the bequest of assets to heirs and may include minimizing gift, estate, generation skipping transfer, and taxes. Estate planning includes planning for incapacity as well as a process of reducing or eliminating uncertainties over the administration of a probate and maximizing the value of the estate by reducing taxes and other expenses. The ultimate goal of estate planning can only be determined by the specific goals of the estate owner and may be as simple or complex as the owner's wishes and needs directs. Guardians are often designated for minor children and beneficiaries in incapacity.