Full probate consists of three main stages, the petition stage, the administration stage, and the closing stage.
The Petition Stage is the initial stage of probate where the primary actions taken include completing and filing the initial petition to open probate, giving notice to all interested parties and creditors, posting bond, validating the will, and filing any supporting documents with the court to receive letters of authority. Typically the petition is filed by whoever is seeking to be appointed Personal Representative of the estate (usually named in the will or an heir with priority).
Assuming all is in order with the filing, the court may hold a hearing to issue the Letters of Authority. These letters will allow the appointed personal representative to act on behalf of the estate.
The goal for this stage is the Appointment of the Personal Representative.
The administration stage is the second stage of probate and starts once a personal representative has been appointed.
During this stage, the personal representative must fulfill their administrative duties. These vary from state to state but generally consist of filing a formal inventory of the assets, paying any taxes or debts, responding to creditor claims, and protecting the estate's assets.
Creditors are given a timeframe of when their claims must be filed, known as the creditor claim period (varies by state but can be 3-12 months). The personal representative must wait for this period to end before proceeding to the next stage.
The goal for this stage is to complete administrative duties and manage the estate.
The closing stage is the last stage of probate. It can be started once the creditor claim period has ended and the personal representative has completed their administrative duties.
During this stage, the personal representative distributes the assets to the rightful heirs and distributees. Some states require court approval before distributing the assets and may hold a hearing to see if there are any objections.
Once the assets have been distributed, the personal representative reports to the court, the estate is closed, and the personal representative is discharged from any liability.
The goal for this stage is to distribute assets and close the estate.