Probate for the rest of us.

Until 12 years ago probate was something that didn’t impact my life. Then a family member died by suicide without a Will. My education in kindergarten, fifth grade, high school, college or even graduate school did not prepare me for the legalese of probate. I am not a lawyer or even a paralegal. This article has been vetted by one and draws from the Rhode Island Bar Association website content. In no way is it intended to be legal counsel. I want to demystify a corner of being a grown up that goes unexplained until you HAVE to deal with it. 

Most grownups while they are alive have to deal with the stuff of life, including but not limited to insurance, rent or mortgages, credit card bills, some of us even have to deal with real estate or investments or business ownership. When we are alive and well, most of us manage passably. But what happens with all those financial and business things when a person dies? Probate is about dealing with the financial life of a person after they die which sometimes involves property and other assets (things that have value) as well as liabilities (debts).

One other word to decode before we tackle probate is the word “estate”. An estate, in this case, is the net worth of the deceased’s assets. The estate is the sum of a person’s assets – legal rights, interests and entitlements to property of any kind – minus all the liabilities at that time. 

Probate can be tricky and lengthy or smooth and quick depending on the nature and complexity of the person’s financial life. The purpose of probate is to make sure that if there is a Will, that it is legal and if it is, that the Will is followed properly. Having a Will may make the probate process quicker and easier as it is essentially a “rulebook” for the Executor or Administrator of how the assets are to be distributed. If there is no Will then the Rhode Island laws determine who inherits the assets and it may not be who the deceased wanted or intended. One other point that may confuse people is the difference between Executor and Administrator. In Rhode Island the difference is an Executor is a person appointed by the court from a Will and an Administrator is appointed by the court in a case without a Will.

Dealing with probate is like settling a tab. The court governed by the state wants to make sure the deceased person’s tab gets closed out properly. The process is partly accounting and part law. Probate is needed to gather the things of value, protect those things, uncover and pay any left over balances/debts, and then figure out if there is any left over and who it goes to or if there are debts how they are resolved. May this help you be a more informed member of society.

Thank you to Cris Offenberg for her expertise in helping shape this article. Should you need her guidance you can find her at:

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