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A brief overview of the probate process and how to avoid it

District of Columbia residents may hear from time to time that it is important to have an estate plan that includes at its core a will. People are told that their wills ensure that their assets will be distributed in accordance with their wishes. Some may not be familiar, however, with what the probate process entails.

When an individual passes away, several issues must be resolved before any distributions of property and other assets can be made. First, the court needs to determine the validity of a person's will. Even if a will is considered valid, that does not mean that its terms will be adhered to by the court.

A will can be challenged by anyone who believes it is not valid or accurate. A will contest must be resolved before any property is distributed. These objections can be complex and are often fraught with emotion, since family members are often filing these contests against other family members.

Even if there are no objections to the will, the process can take months or even years to complete. Certain notification requirements must be met, creditors are given a chance to file claims, and the executor must carry out other duties before a probate can be considered closed. Dealing with court filings, tax returns and other paperwork requirements can be confusing and frustrating.

Even a "simple" District of Columbia probate must follow certain steps and requires the filing of certain documents. Missing a step could cause timely and costly delays in getting the estate closed. All the while, the assets of the estate may be languishing. Regardless of the circumstances, being represented by counsel during the probate process can make things less stressful and go more smoothly for those involved.

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