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What Is Probate or Estate Administration?

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The probate estate process in Alabama is the legal process through which a deceased person's assets are distributed to their heirs or beneficiaries and their debts and taxes are settled. The process can vary depending on the complexity of the estate and whether the deceased had a valid will. Here is an overview of the probate estate process in Alabama:

Filing a Petition: The process begins with the filing of a petition for probate in the probate court in the county where the deceased person lived at the time of their death. If there is a will, it should be submitted to the court along with the petition. If there is no will, the estate is considered "intestate," and Alabama's laws of intestate succession will apply.

Appointment of Personal Representative: The court will appoint a personal representative (executor or administrator) to manage the estate. If the deceased had a will, the named executor will typically serve in this role. If there is no will or no named executor, the court will appoint an administrator.

Bond:  When the decedent passed away and did not have a Will, the Administrator will need to post a Bond.  The requirements for Bond are in most cases posted on the Probate Court's website ( the amounts vary as they are periodically adjusted )    If the decedent passed away and had a Will, the Will can state that the requirement for bond is waived.   

Notice to Creditors and Heirs: The personal representative must notify creditors and potential heirs of the probate proceedings. This typically involves publishing a notice in a local newspaper and sending notice to known creditors and interested parties with a copy of the Will ( in the case of an "intestate" estate, where there is a Will).  

Waivers:   The probate process can move more quickly if all of the legal beneficiaries are in agreement as to the appointment of the Administrator ( when there is no Will) or Executor ( when there is a Will).   The Legal Heirs can sign forms to waive objection to appointment of the Administrator or Executor, and waive certain notice and hearing requirements, which serve to move the estate forward without litigation over these issues.  

Inventory and Appraisal: The personal representative is responsible for taking an inventory of the deceased person's assets and having them appraised, if necessary. This inventory should include all the assets subject to probate, such as real estate, bank accounts, personal property, and investments.

Payment of Debts and Taxes: The personal representative must identify and pay the deceased person's outstanding debts and taxes from the assets of the estate. This includes funeral expenses, outstanding bills, and any state or federal estate taxes, if applicable.

Distribution to Heirs or Beneficiaries: Once debts and taxes are settled, the remaining assets can be distributed to the heirs or beneficiaries according to the terms of the will or Alabama's laws of intestate succession.

Final Accounting and Closing the Estate: The personal representative is required to provide a final accounting to the court, detailing all financial transactions related to the estate. Once the court approves the accounting and is satisfied that all obligations have been met, the estate can be closed, and the personal representative is discharged from their duties.

Probate Forms:   Estate administration is similar to bankruptcy case administration.  The process involves preparation and filing of forms  with the Probate Court to fully disclose estate assets and provide a forum where interested parties can file objections or raise any disputed legal issues with the Court.   Distribution of property of the estate and disposition and payment of the decedent's debts are a major part of the probate process.  

Estate Planning:  The probate process can be avoided in many cases where the decedent has planned the disposition of assets via legal structures such as a Living Trust, or contractual transfer of assets while alive, such as through a joint account or joint ownership of property.   It is important that the person considering estate planning consult with an attorney who is licensed in the State of residence and experienced in this area of law.  

Legal Fees:   Attorney fees for estate administration can typically be around 4% to 6% of the estate assets listed on the filed Inventory, and vary from firm to firm, and the experience of the attorney.  Some estates can be administered for a lower "flat" legal fee or on an hourly basis.    

Retainer fee:  Most firms require payment of a retainer fee prior to commencing services for the Estate. The retainer fee is held in a trust account until the Administrator or Executor is appointed by the Court ( which may take several weeks after the Estate is filed, and depending on whether the legal heirs consent to the appointment.  

Timing of Payment:  A dispute over the appointment of Administrator or Executor will delay the administration of the estate, and confirmation of the attorney fee agreement, which is not enforceable against the Estate until the Administrator or Executor is appointed, since that would be counterparty to the contract).   

IOLTA Client Trust Account:  The deposit of the retainer fee into a client Trust ( IOLTA) account ensures that the funds can be refunded or paid to other counsel if a different Administrator or Executor is appointed by the Probate Court, and a different attorney or law firm retained.  

It's important to note that Alabama, like many states, has specific laws and procedures governing probate, so it's advisable to consult with an attorney or seek legal advice when navigating the probate process to ensure that you comply with all applicable laws and requirements. Additionally, the complexity of the probate process can vary based on the size and complexity of the estate, so some estates may require more time and effort than others to complete the probate process.

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