Many people have their first—and sometimes only—experience with the law in a probate court. Here is what to anticipate if you find yourself there—and in need of a probate bond as well.
What Is Probate Court?
As explained by LegalZoom:
Probate court is a specialized type of court that deals with the property and debts of a person who has died.
The basic role of the probate court judge is to assure that the deceased person’s creditors are paid, and that any remaining assets are distributed to the proper beneficiaries.
Probate makes the deceased person’s financial situation a matter of public record. This includes the nature and extent of the assets, the person’s debts, and who will get the assets.
Usually, the probate process begins when a relative, or someone designated in a will, files a petition with the probate court. Most states have specific forms for this action. Some states refer to probate court as Surrogate’s Court, Orphan’s Court or Chancery Court. If the deceased has made a will, a copy of that is also filed, along with the death certificate.
Typically, a probate judge’s first step is to appoint someone to administer the assets and debts of the deceased, as overseen by the court. As LegalZoom describes:
Generally, this person is called a personal representative or executor, but may also be called an administrator if there is no will, and an executor if there is a will. Most, if not all, wills designate someone to fill that role. The personal representative is responsible for handling the administration of the estate.
Most often, this personal representative is a close relative or friend of the deceased—which is precisely how many of us find ourselves in probate court.
What Is a Probate Bond and How Can You Obtain One?
Frequently, probate court judges will ask the appointed representative to obtain a probate bond. These bonds are required by courts to protect the interests of the estate and its beneficiaries in accordance with state law.
Colonial Surety Company understands that if you are in probate court, you need to obtain the bond the judge requests quickly. That’s why we offer a direct, instant and digital way to obtain probate bonds, which are also referred to as administrator, executor, fiduciary, estate or personal representative bonds. At Colonial, the steps to obtaining these bonds are easy—get a quote online, fill out your information, and enter your payment method. Print or e-file the bond right from your home or office—even while at court. It’s that simple.
How Do Probate Courts Distribute Property?
If there is no will, the judge follows state probate law to determine the order in which to distribute property to the next of kin. This is known as the law of intestate succession. For example, state law breaks down the order in which property goes to a surviving spouse, children, grandchildren, and other relations.
When there is a will, the property is distributed as it directs. However, sometimes probate courts become involved in determining the validity of the will or resolving disputes if the will is contested. Similarly, if there is a will, but the person originally named to execute it is unable or unwilling to do so, the probate court will proceed to designate an alternate.
Simplified Probate Processes: A New Jersey Example
Many states offer simplified probate procedures, which can save families a great deal of time and money when there is no will. For example, NOLO reports that in New Jersey, family members can use simplified procedures if:
The value of all of the assets left by the deceased person doesn’t exceed $20,000, and the surviving spouse or domestic partner is entitled to all of it without probate; or,
There is no surviving spouse or domestic partner and the value of all of the assets doesn’t exceed $20,000. One heir, with the written consent of the others, can file an affidavit (sworn statement) with the court and receive all the assets.
As a leader in court bonds, Colonial Surety Company believes in making them available simply affordably—and directly to customers. We’re licensed in all 50 states and U.S. territories and our I-bonds® are available instantly and online.