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How Does Probate Work in the State of Kentucky?

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When someone dies, their estate often has to go through probate. Probate is the process by which an estate is settled under the supervision of the court. If there is a will, the executor/personal representative is nominated in the will to represent the affairs of the estate. If there is no will, a personal representative is appointed by the court. This is usually a surviving spouse, adult child, or another close relative of the decedent. 

The personal representative is charged with handling the affairs of the estate. This may include gathering and valuing the assets and property owned by the estate, paying the estate’s debts and taxes, and distributing the remaining property and assets to the heirs and beneficiaries (as per the terms and conditions of the will). Once all creditors and taxes have been paid, the probate court issues an order distributing the remaining assets to their designated beneficiaries, and the estate is closed.

The purpose of probate is to help ensure that there is no fraud and misrepresentation, all interested parties are notified of the decedent’s death, the affairs of the estate are handled properly, and that the property within the estate goes to the rightful heirs. The process can be completed in about six months or so in the simplest cases. However, if there are will contests and other complications, it could go much longer, sometimes for even a few years. Probate is a public process, and the proceeding becomes part of the court record for anyone to review.

The Kentucky Probate Process

Probate in the state of Kentucky usually takes about 6 to 12 months. Estates generally have to stay open for six months, because this is the amount of time creditors have to file a claim. Any creditor claims that are filed more than six months after an estate is opened are unenforceable.  For this reason, it is usually recommended that the personal representative does not make any distributions to beneficiaries until the six-month period has expired. Otherwise, the assets within the estate may not be sufficient to satisfy the claims of all creditors, which would make the personal representative personally liable for the shortfall.

Although there is really no way to shorten the length of the regular probate process in Kentucky, there are some circumstances in which probate may not be necessary:

There are No Assets to Probate

There are some instances when there might not be any property within the estate to be probated. In such cases, the district court may “dispense with administration”. If the decedent had a will, the will may still become part of the public record even though a court process is not needed to distribute the assets. You may wonder how anyone who had a will would die without any assets to be probated. The most common instance in which this would happen is if all of the decedent’s assets already had beneficiary designations.

In Kentucky, certain types of property can be transferred directly to another individual if it is jointly-owned with a right of survivorship. For example, if you and your spouse own a house and two vehicles together and your spouse dies, you should be able to get this property transferred solely into your name without much problem. Kentucky also allows Payable-on-Death designations for bank accounts and certificates of deposit, and Transfer-on-Death registrations for stocks and bonds.

Keep in mind that there must be no assets at all to transfer to use this alternative. This would include any real estate or vehicles that are in the decedent’s name only, any bank or stock accounts without a beneficiary designation, any unclaimed property, income tax refunds, utility rebates, anything at all.

You Qualify as a Small Estate

If there is property within the estate, the court may still “dispense with administration” if you meet certain qualifications. The first qualification is that the total value of the assets within the estate must be $15,000 or less. The second qualification is that the only ones allowed to be heirs to the property in the estate are spouses and children. It is important to note that the $15,000 exemption amount is after all preferred claims to the estate have been satisfied. Preferred claims include funeral costs, federal and state tax debt, and estate administration costs (e.g., CPA and attorney fees).

Contact an Experienced Estate Kentucky Estate Planning Lawyer

Probate in Kentucky can be a stressful process, and it is generally best to avoid it if at all possible. By designating beneficiaries to certain assets ahead of time, your estate may qualify for a more simplified process if you have little or no assets that are in your name only and/or without a beneficiary designation.

For those with significant assets, there are more advanced strategies to avoid probate, such as setting up a living trust. These types of strategies are far more complicated, however, and it is highly recommended that you speak with a seasoned estate planning attorney to discuss your specific circumstances and develop the right strategy to fit your situation.

At the law offices of John H. Ruby & Associates, we have extensive experience helping clients with all types of estate planning needs, from the simplest wills to the most complex trusts and other financial instruments. We work closely with our clients, taking the time to listen and understand their unique needs, so we can develop the most practical and effective legal solution. For a consultation with one of our attorneys, call our office today at 502-895-2626 or message us through our online contact form. You may also stop by our Louisville office at your convenience.