When crafting an estate plan, often the overall goal is to avoid probate. Although probate avoidance is often encouraged in estate planning strategies, many people do not understand what the probate process involves. In Kentucky, the probate process is straightforward and only involves three main steps.
To begin the probate process after the death of a loved one, a petitioner must file a petition with the county clerk in the county where the deceased lived. To conform to Kentucky probate procedures, the petition must include:
- The name of the deceased and the date of their death
- If applicable, the name of the surviving spouse
- The names and addresses of all known heirs
- A summary of the estate, including property and valuables
- A will, if the decedent had one
After submitting the petition, a judge appoints a fiduciary to administer the estate. The fiduciary is either the person named as the executor it the decedent’s will or a personal representative willing to finalize the deceased’s financial affairs.
During the probate process, the fiduciary must manage and protect the decedent’s assets. Within two months of their appointment, the fiduciary must file an inventory of the estate, in duplicate, with the county clerk. The inventory should include an itemized valuation of the deceased’s assets at the time of their death. Once filed, the inventory is public record, which is why many choose to avoid probate through estate planning tools.
To finalize the estate, the fiduciary must pay the decedent’s final taxes and any debts against the estate. Following the distribution of remaining assets, the representative or executor must submit a detailed final accounting of all payments, supported by receipts and other documents, to the court for review. Following the review, the court will discharge the fiduciary, relieving them of all further duties.
In certain situations, heirs may use an informal settlement instead of the formal settlement process. This process is only available for solvent estates. When heirs disagree over how to administer the estate, attempting an informal settlement would likely be impractical.
Regardless of which settlement option you choose, proper documentation is a must. Keeping a thorough accounting of all assets, payments and expenses can help ensure you meet all legal requirements.