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Navigating Probate: Top Do's and Don'ts for a Smooth Process

Navigating the probate process. March 26, 2023

The probate process can be complicated, time-consuming, and emotionally taxing. As an executor or personal representative, you may find yourself tasked with handling the probate of a loved one's estate. To help you navigate this journey, we have compiled a list of top do's and don'ts to keep in mind as you administer the estate.


  1. Consult with an attorney: Probate laws vary by state, and it is essential to consult with an attorney experienced in probate law to ensure that you follow the correct legal procedures, timelines, and requirements. An attorney can also help you with the necessary paperwork and guide you through any potential pitfalls.

  2. File the will with the court: Locate the deceased person's will, if there is one, and file it with the appropriate probate court. This step is crucial as it officially begins the probate process and ensures that the estate is administered according to the decedent's wishes.

  3. Obtain Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration: These documents, issued by the court, grant you the authority to administer the estate. Make sure to keep them on hand as you will need them to access assets, pay debts, and distribute the remaining property to beneficiaries.

  4. Notify creditors and beneficiaries: As the executor or personal representative, you are responsible for notifying creditors and beneficiaries of the estate. This is important for settling any outstanding debts and ensuring that beneficiaries receive their inheritance as outlined in the will or by state law.

  5. Inventory and appraise the estate's assets: It is essential to create an accurate inventory of the decedent's assets, including real estate, personal property, and financial accounts. The assets should be appraised to determine their value at the time of death, which will be useful when settling debts, taxes, and distributing the remaining property.


  1. Don't procrastinate: Probate can be a lengthy process, but delaying necessary tasks will only prolong it. Timely completion of paperwork, notifications, and other responsibilities can help avoid delays, penalties, and complications.

  2. Don't use estate funds for personal expenses: As an executor or personal representative, you must keep estate funds separate from your own and never use them for personal expenses. Misappropriation of estate funds can lead to legal consequences and personal liability.

  3. Don't distribute assets too soon: It can be tempting to distribute assets to beneficiaries quickly, but doing so before paying off debts and taxes could result in personal liability if there are not enough funds left to cover those obligations. Wait until all debts, taxes, and other expenses have been settled before distributing the remaining assets.

  4. Don't ignore disputes among beneficiaries: Disputes among beneficiaries can lead to costly and time-consuming litigation. Be proactive in addressing any conflicts, and consider consulting with a mediator or attorney to help resolve disagreements.

  5. Don't forget to file the final accounting and close the estate: Once all debts, taxes, and distributions have been completed, make sure to file the final accounting with the court and officially close the estate. This step is essential to ensure that you have fulfilled all your legal obligations as the executor or personal representative.

Administering an estate through the probate process can be challenging, but by following these do's and don'ts, you can help ensure a smoother experience for yourself and the beneficiaries. If you need to probate an estate, our experienced attorneys can guide you through the process.