estate planning lawyer

Probate & Estate Administration in Charleston, SC - serving the North Charleston, Hanahan & Mt Pleasant areas

When a loved one passes away, there is often the need for his or her estate to go through a court-managed process called probate or estate administration, where the assets of the deceased are ultimately distributed to the proper heirs or devisees. If your loved one's assets were held by a well-drafted and properly funded living trust, it is possible that no court-managed administration is necessary, though a successor trustee may have special duties or distributions to attend. The length of time needed to complete the probate of an estate depends on the size and complexity of the estate and the local rules and schedule of the probate court.

Every probate estate is unique, but most involve the following steps:

  • Filing of a petition with the proper probate court to appoint a personal representative
  • Notice to heirs under the Will or to statutory heirs (if no Will exists)
  • Inventory and appraisal of estate assets
  • Payment of estate debts to rightful creditors
  • Payment of estate taxes, if applicable
  • Final distribution of assets to heirs

Frequently Asked Questions

Does probate administer all property of the deceased?

Probate is primarily a process through which title is transferred from the name of the Decedent to the names of the beneficiaries.

Certain types of assets are "non-probate assets" and do not go through probate. These include:

  • Property in which you own title as "joint tenants with right of survivorship". Such property passes to the co-owners by operation of law and do not go through probate.
  • Retirement accounts such as IRA and 401(k) accounts where there are designated beneficiaries.
  • Life insurance policies.
  • Bank accounts with "pay on death" (POD) designations or "in trust for" designations.
  • Property owned by a living trust. Legal title to such property passes to successor trustees without having to go through probate.

Do I get paid for serving as an Executor?

Executors are typically reimbursed for all legitimate and reasonable out-of-pocket expenses incurred in managing and distributing the estate. In addition, you may be entitled to statutory fees up to 5% of the estate. The personal representative must fulfill his or her fiduciary duties on behalf of the estate and beneficiaries with the highest level of integrity and can be held liable for mismanagement of estate assets in his or her care.

How much does probate cost? How long does it take?

The cost and duration of probate can vary substantially depending on a number of factors such as the value and complexity of the estate, the existence of a Will, and the location of real property owned by the Decedent. Will contests or disputes with alleged creditors of the estate can also add significant cost and delay. Most estates are settled though probate in about 9 to 18 months, assuming there is no litigation involved.

Contact us today, we serve clients in the Mt Pleasant, North Charleston, Hanahan, and Charleston, SC area.