Probate is often necessary before a decedent’s assets can be transferred to beneficiaries after death. While some assets may pass directly to beneficiaries by means of joint ownership with right of survivorship or beneficiary designation, the decedent’s other assets are considered “probate property.”
The Probate Court is charged with overseeing the probate process and appointing a Personal Representative to administer the estate. After appointment, the Personal Representative is responsible for inventorying the decedent’s probate property and determining the decedent’s creditors and tax liability. After a “Notice to Debtors and Creditors” runs for four consecutive weeks, creditors are allowed an additional eight months to make claims against the estate. Once the eight-month period has passed, the Personal Representative must pay all debts and expenses of administration in order of priority, as specified in the South Carolina Probate Code. The remaining assets should be distributed according to the decedent’s Last Will and Testament or the laws of intestate succession (if the decedent died without a will) before the estate can be closed.
On average, this process takes approximately twelve months to complete. For many families, this lengthy time-table is sufficient justification to avoid the probate process. With proper planning, probate can be completely avoided without sacrificing flexibility or making irrevocable lifetime gifts to children. If you are interested in learning more about the probate process and whether or not you should plan to avoid probate, please call our office at (803) 306-6053 to reserve a seat at our next monthly estate planning seminar.