Probate courts administer estates after someone’s death. Judges in Arkansas probate courts work in civil courts to make the final decisions regarding the payment of debts and distributions of assets.
Uncontested wills limit judge responsibilities
If a person dies after leaving behind a will and that will is not contested, a probate court judge may play a minimal role in the administration of the estate. Administration in these events typically takes less time and involves the following steps:
• Prove the will is legal
• Open an estate account with the court
• Notify all appropriate parties, including creditors and heirs
• Conduct an inventory of assets
• Distribute the assets.
• Close the estate.
Contested wills require greater involvement
If a will exists but the heirs decide to contest it, the probate judge must listen to the argument. This involves reviewing any evidence brought to the probate court. A review process for the contested will can take years and involve multiple hearings and motions issued by the judge. The ultimate authority to make decisions about the contested will lies with the probate judge.
A lack of a will increases judge responsibilities
If a person dies without a will, the probate judge will have to follow the same steps that would be required if a will was in place. But because the court lacks a will, the process becomes more complex and requires the judge to take additional steps. The judge appoints an administrator of the estate and invokes intestate succession. This succession law uses the state’s law to determine the order of inheritance for the deceased’s loved ones.
Estate planning lessens probate judges’ role
Few people want to leave the distribution of their assets to the sole discretion of the judge. Proper estate planning can ensure that your bills are paid promptly and your assets go where you want them to go.