After someone dies, their belongings typically go to their heirs – family members, close friends or entities outlined in their will or other estate planning documents. When a court helps distribute the proceeds of an estate, the process is known as probate.

The idea behind this legal procedure is dispersing the decedent’s property according to their wishes after paying any applicable taxes or debts. If a person dies without a will, half of the estate typically goes to a surviving spouse. The remainder passes to other family members, according to the state’s succession laws.

Kentucky’s probate process

The Bluegrass State’s probate system generally involves three steps:

  • Filing a petition: After a person’s death, the estate’s executor or administrator must file a petition to begin the process in the county where the decedent lived. They must also file the original will document and a filing fee must be paid.
  • Taking inventory: The estate’s executor (or personal representative) must file a comprehensive list of all the decedent’s assets and debts within two months.
  • Final settlement: All debts and taxes are paid, and the remainder is distributed to heirs according to the person’s will, or under Kentucky’s succession rules if no will exists – known as intestate.

How can a probate attorney help?

Probate lawyers – also called trust or estate attorneys – help executors or estate administrators through the probate process. If a will exists, lawyers offer guidance over various matters. For instance, they can review the will to ensure it wasn’t signed under duress, such as in the case of an older person with dementia.

If a person dies intestate, a probate lawyer helps the estate administrator distribute assets according to state laws. Additionally, probate lawyers can represent family members or other parties who challenge a will – known as a will contest – if they believe the document doesn’t correctly reflect the decedent’s wishes.

Suppose you have been selected as an executor or are handling the administration of someone who died without a will. In that case, it’s a good idea to speak to an experienced probate attorney here in Kentucky to follow state laws and administer the estate according to the decedent’s wishes.