What is Probate?

Probate, at a base level, is a process used in the court system to satisfy creditors and distribute assets of a deceased person to his or her beneficiaries, either named in a Will or based on Nebraska law (if the person died without a Will). The probate process applies to probate assets. Probate assets are assets that are held or titled in the name of the deceased person only, with no beneficiaries. For example, a house owned by John Smith is a probate asset; a house owned by John and Jane Smith, as joint tenants, is not a probate asset.

In Nebraska, when a person dies, their estate is distributed through the probate process in the county where the decedent lived at the time of death. Exceptions apply when the estate value is under $50,000.00 in tangible assets and $50,000.00 in real estate assets. At the start of an estate case, it is important to identify what assets are owned by the deceased person, how the assets are titled, and how much they are worth. By doing this, it can be determined whether a probate proceeding is necessary.

If probate is required, a petition is filed in county court. A personal representative is appointed to administer the estate, notify creditors and collect assets of the decedent. Notice of the estate is published in a local newspaper and an Inventory of the decedent’s assets is prepared. After these initial tasks are completed, the personal representative will be able to evaluate what assets are in the estate, what debts are owed, and whether all debts can be satisfied. Once creditors, taxes and administrative costs are satisfied, any remaining assets are distributed to the beneficiaries. Depending on the situation, an inheritance tax determination may also be required. Once these steps are complete, the personal representative can petition the court to close the estate.

There are planning tools available to avoid probate, such as using transfer-on-death deeds, titling, trusts, or beneficiary designations. A qualified estate attorney can answer questions you have about probate, where to go from here, or how to best lay out your own estate plan.

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