Formal or Informal Probate – what’s the difference?
Authored by: Anisha D. Rutkowski
We have discussed in previous posts when probate is necessary and how to avoid probate. But another key topic to cover is that when a deceased person’s assets must go through the probate process, the process can be either “formal” or “informal.” As you may guess, the best choice will depend on the circumstances of each case, and an experienced probate law attorney will be able to advise the potential personal representative of an estate regarding which type of administration is best.
Informal probate administration typically takes place with the oversight of a probate register at the court. The basic steps of the process generally require providing information by filing forms with the court and notifying interested parties. This does not necessarily require appearances in front of a probate judge and, thus, it means that informal probate can be relatively quick, less expensive, and more private than formal probate. So why would anyone need to utilize the formal probate process?
Formal proceedings are best suited for situations where family members or other interested parties are in conflict over any aspect of the estate, such as the assets contained in the estate, the wishes of the deceased individual, or who should be administering the estate. Formal proceedings may also be ideal if the estate assets themselves present complexities or high dollar values. Because formal proceedings will be overseen by a probate judge, this type of administration may require hearings, attorney appearances, and additional filings, particularly if the formal proceedings are “supervised.” Formal probate administration can be either “supervised” or “unsupervised,” a distinction that also depends on the circumstances of each estate and dictates how independently a personal representative may act on behalf of the estate.
It is important to keep in mind that even if an estate is relatively small, complications may arise even in informal and unsupervised administration. If your loved one has passed away and has assets that must pass through the probate process, you should seek legal guidance regarding which type of administration to pursue and how to navigate the probate process, as your decisions will impact the time required, funds needed, and privacy of information relating to your loved one’s estate. Please contact our office for an initial consultation if you would like to speak to our experienced estate planning and probate law attorneys.