Uniform Probate Code

In some states, a piece of legislation called the Uniform Probate Code (UPC) can make the process of probate faster, easier and significantly less costly for everyone involved. The UPC was created to update old-fashioned state laws that spurred complaints about the numerous downfalls of probate and the legal code behind estate administration.

In recent times, various aspects of probate like its costliness, inefficiency and frustrating differences in code between states have become increasingly problematic, causing many people to try to avoid the process at all costs. While it’s always worthwhile to arrange to keep your property out of probate court, the process can never  be avoided altogether.

The main benefit of the Uniform Probate Code is a transition from mandatory court proceedings to less formal, paper-driven processes. The UPC introduced informal, non-judicial probate procedures and independent administration of estates, which require far less court supervision than traditional probate. If disputes arise at some point or if any interested party objects to the simplified proceedings, formal probate administration is always still an option.

While certain situations in UPC states still call for court guidance and traditional probate procedures, streamlined methods requiring only paperwork and minimal court supervision can be employed in most cases. This makes probate significantly faster, cheaper and easier. In some states, the UPC even simplifies the procedures of probate court.

How Probate Works in UPC States

The 17 states listed in the chart below adopted all or most of the simplified UPC. In these UPC states, there are three types of probate: informal administration, unsupervised formal administration and supervised formal administration. Here’s a brief look at the process for each type.

Informal Administration

The majority of probates in UPC states are completed through informal administration. With this approach, the process consists solely of paperwork with no need for a court proceeding. Informal estate administration can be pursued whether or not the deceased person left a will.

The process is much like the streamlined procedures for small estates available in most states, but there are no restrictions on estate size. There are, however, a couple requirements to meet to qualify.

First, applications must be filed between five days and three years after the deceased person’s death. Second, this option is not available when there are disputes between inheritors or there are any anticipated problems with the estate’s creditors. If no interested party disputes, informal probate can begin.

The first step of the process is to request permission for informal administration from the probate court, which only requires a simple application form. If there is no will to name a personal representative for the estate, the estate’s inheritors must select someone to take this role.

Next, a court employee (called either a probate register or registrar) will review the case and approve the application if all conditions are met.

Once the application is approved, the personal representative will perform several responsibilities, which can include:

Sending formal notices informing heirs, beneficiaries and creditors of probate
Publishing a notice to creditors in a local newspaper
Proving to the probate registrar that all required notices were mailed correctly
Preparing an inventory and appraisal of the deceased’s estate
Paying all debts and taxes
Distributing the remaining property to inheritors

Some of these responsibilities aren't necessary in every state. Once the required duties are complete, the personal representative can officially close the estate. If no one objects to how these final matters were handled, the probate process is complete.

Unsupervised Formal Administration

Certain situations will call for unsupervised formal probate, which requires a traditional court proceeding. This option is lengthier and more costly than informal probate, and is usually preferred when:

There is no will and the court must determine inheritors
The estate has more debts than assets
Inheritors or creditors need the court to resolve a disagreement
The personal representative wants to avoid criticism or suspicion during estate administration
Minors inherit substantial property and need help protecting their interests

Before this type of probate can begin, the personal representative must schedule a court hearing and send formal notices to all interested persons, such as persons named in the will, the deceased person’s heirs, anyone who might inherit property according to state laws and anyone who formally asked the court for notifications about the case. The court will have the final say of who will serve as the estate’s personal representative.

Next, the personal representative must publish an announcement about the probate proceeding in a local newspaper. If anyone comes forward and objects to the court’s choice for the personal representative, he or she can attend the proceeding and air any concerns.

Prior to selling or distributing the deceased’s property or paying a lawyer, the personal representative may need to request permission from the court. The last step the personal representative must complete before closing the estate is to provide the court with an account of how the estate’s assets were managed.

Supervised Formal Probate

Supervised formal probate is the rarest type of UPC estate administration, but a court could find it necessary. For example, it may be the only option when beneficiaries can’t look after their own best interests and need the court’s protection.

With this type of probate, the court’s review and approval is required for most steps of estate administration. Supervised administration may be required to:

Approve the sale of the deceased person’s estate
Authorize payments to the personal representative and attorney
Supervise the personal representative’s accounting, receipts and disbursements
Approve the distribution of real estate to heirs and inheritors

Overall, the process is much like unsupervised formal probate. The main difference is that with supervised probate, the judge can order the personal representative to takes specific steps to ensure that the estate remains safe and is properly transferred to its rightful inheritors.

State Variations of the UPC

While the Uniform Probate Code brings some well-needed changes to the probate process, it is not as widely embraced as the Uniform Law Commission had hoped. Even so, the commission’s Uniform Commercial Code is adopted at least in part by all 50 states.

It’s important to realize that each state is free to modify the UPC code as it sees fit. Although probate laws are similar in all UPC states, sometimes there are important differences.

Be sure to look into your state’s specific UPC code rather than the official version of the UPC the Uniform Law Commission recommends to all 50 states.

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