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.
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.
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.
Wills are a common estate planning tool, and are usually the simplest device for planning the distribution of an estate. It is important that a will be created and executed in compliance with the laws of the jurisdiction where it is created. If it is possible that probate proceedings will occur in a different jurisdiction, it is important also to ensure that the will complies with the laws of that jurisdiction or that the jurisdiction will follow the provisions of a valid out-of-state will even if they might be invalid for a will executed in that jurisdiction.
An applicant may challenge the validity of a person's will after they have died by lodging a caveat and requisite fee at the probate registry. This prevents anyone from obtaining a grant of probate for that person's estate for six months, which the applicant can shortly before that point apply to extend. A caveat is not to be used to extend the time for bringing a claim for financial provision from a person's estate, such as under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. The court can order costs against an applicant using a caveat for that purpose.
The probate court also has jurisdiction to hear lawsuits appertaining to or incident to an estate of a decedent or ward and actions by or against a personal representative of an estate of a decedent or ward. It is common for the court to hear any type of civil litgation, including personal injury, property damage, breach of fiduciary duty and family law. The probate courts are charged with the responsibility of independently maintaining contact with every person under a guardianship each year. This is done through court visitor programs developed and maintained by each court.
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