Probate Court: Synopsis of Inheritance and Equity Law

Simon Volkov
July 16, 2009 — 1,509 views  
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The first probate court within the United States was established in Massachusetts in 1784. One of the primary functions of this court is to oversee equitable distribution of decedents' estates. Additional equity law matters governed by the probate court include marriage, adoption, guardianship, and name changes.

Probate court addresses all legal matters governed by equity law. Equity law is defined as "an order which directs an individual to act or refrain from acting." Equity law differs from court regulated laws which pertain to doctrines and statutes and is enforced by guidelines known as 'maxims of equity.'

Each state within the U.S. abides by their established probate laws. Depending on the court's jurisdiction, probate court might also be referred to as Court of Ordinary, Surrogate Court, Court of Equity or Orphans Court.

When a person dies everything they own is held in probate. Nothing can be sold or given away until the estate passes through probate. This process is necessary to validate the decedent's Last Will and Testament, pay outstanding debts, and transfer inheritance to rightful heirs.

Although probate laws vary by state, most require estates to be managed by an appointed estate administrator. This person is named within the decedent's last will. If the decedent died intestate (without a Will), the probate court will appoint someone to this position.

Estate administrators are responsible for a variety of duties. Most work with a probate lawyer or estate planner to ensure documents are properly filled out and documented through the court. Duties can include taking inventory of property and financial assets; obtaining appraisals for valuable assets such as real estate, automobiles, art work, jewelry and collectibles; paying creditor debts; and distributing inheritance to named beneficiaries.

Probate typically lasts between four and nine months. Once all documents have been filed through the court, a probate judge reviews the case. If all matters are resolved, the judge will sign off on the case and the estate administrator can commence with asset distribution.

In addition to presiding over probated estates, probate courts address all matters requiring the enforcement of equity law. Although there are hundreds of equity law matters, the most common include establishing guardianship for minor children; recording birth certificates, adoptions and name changes; and issuing marriage licenses.

Additionally, probate courts preside over civil actions related to probate. The most common civil actions presented in probate court include contesting the last will, determination of rightful heirs, and presumption of death. Civil actions are the only cases presented in probate court which require a jury trial.

About the Author

Simon Volkov specializes in purchasing estates held in probate court. By offering cash for inheritance, Simon lessens financial burdens for the estate and allows beneficiaries to obtain a portion of their money while waiting for the probate process to terminate. Learn how to sell your inheritance for cash by visiting Simon Volkov today.

Simon Volkov