Losing a loved one is difficult. It can be even harder if, in addition to dealing with your grief, you are the one tasked with settling your loved one’s estate. But you do not have to do it alone. An experienced Mississippi probate attorney can help make the process as stress-free as possible.
What Is Probate?
When someone dies with or without a will, their estate goes through a process called probate. This is a court case with the purpose of:
- Gathering the decedent’s assets;
- Determining if the decedent had a valid will;
- Figuring out the value of the decedent’s property;
- Making sure the estate pays its debts and expenses; and
- Transferring the decedent’s property to the heirs according to intestate succession laws if there is no will—and according to the terms of the will if one exists.
The court appoints an administrator for an intestate estate or an executor for an estate governed by a will to handle these tasks with the court’s supervision.
For some small estates, no probate court proceeding is required. Slightly larger estates may qualify for a simplified process.
Certain types of property also do not go through probate at all. For example, if you own property jointly with someone else and the deed includes a “right of survivorship,” the property passes automatically to the other owner when you die. Likewise, if your bank account has a “payable on death” provision, the person you designate can collect the money after your death without going through probate.
Do I Have to Have an Attorney to Probate in Mississippi?
Yes. If the administrator or executor is not an attorney, an attorney must be hired to serve as an advisor. The initial stages of probate proceedings involve knowing how to obtain copies of deeds and access to account balances. A probate lawyer from Mississippi will know what forms and evidence banks and other institutions require before they will release this sensitive personal information.
An attorney also will have the knowledge and experience to provide the court with the correct filings and supporting documentation. Probate often takes a long time, but an experienced attorney can make the process move more quickly and efficiently.
How Long Does Probate Take?
The complexity of the estate largely dictates how long probate will take to complete. An estate with a will and real property, but a total value of less than $75,000, may be distributed in a few months because it does not require a full probate proceeding.
But probate of large estates may take more than a year to complete. This is because settling the estate involves things like appraising and selling multiple properties, locating multiple bank and investment accounts, or appraising and managing business assets.
Other factors that affect the duration of probate include:
- Whether anyone contests the will;
- How many creditors submit claims;
- Difficulty locating documents and beneficiaries; and
- Problems accessing assets.
Here again, a seasoned Mississippi probate attorney will know how to overcome some of these challenges to expedite the process.
How Are Assets Distributed?
If the decedent left a valid will, the will dictates how the executor distributes the assets.
When someone dies without a will or the will is declared invalid, the court will follow a process called intestate succession in distributing property. While the intestate succession laws cover every scenario, the law governing common situations is as follows:
- If you die with a spouse but no children, your spouse inherits everything;
- If you die with children but no spouse, your property is divided equally between your children;
- If you leave behind a spouse and children, they inherit your property in equal shares;
- If you have no spouse or children, your parents inherit everything; and
- If you do not have a spouse, children, or surviving parents, your siblings inherit equal shares of your estate.
These distribution requirements can result in unintended outcomes, which is why it is advisable to have an attorney prepare a will during your lifetime.
What Other Related Issues Arise During Probate?
The administrator or executor of an estate must comply with numerous tax obligations. With regard to federal taxes, they usually need to:
- Verify any federal tax debt;
- Request that the IRS file a creditor claim in the probate proceeding;
- File the decedent’s income tax returns for the year of death; and
- Obtain a tax identification number and file an income tax return for the estate.
If the estate operated a business after the owner’s death, the administrator must comply with tax obligations related to the business.
Very large estates may owe estate taxes. Mississippi also imposes its own tax requirements. Your Mississippi probate attorney can help you determine what requirements apply to your loved one’s estate.
Where Do I Find a Probate Attorney in Mississippi?
Whether you are an administrator, executor, beneficiary, or heir, Harris Law Firm, PLLC can help you navigate complex probate proceedings. Dealing with complicated financial issues and mountains of paperwork is daunting at the best of times.
When you have just lost a loved one, it can be overwhelming. Having worked as a licensed clinical social worker and mental health therapist prior to practicing law, attorney Katherine Harris Elliott provides particularly empathetic counsel to her clients.
When you are ready to speak with a Mississippi probate attorney who will take the time to get to know you personally and compassionately guide you through probate, contact the Harris Law Firm, PLLC.