Probate Law Basics in Utah

Do you find yourself overwhelmed by the complexities of Utah probate law? It’s not a part of the legal system many people have to deal with frequently, so there are many unknowns when they do. Navigating the specifics of Utah probate law can be a daunting challenge if you don’t have an experienced attorney in your corner guiding you through it. 

Understanding probate law is vital to avoiding potential conflicts when it comes time to settle an estate. There are specific procedures for wills and trusts and others for when the deceased didn’t leave instructions for disbursement. Part of our work at ProvenLaw is to help people just like you fully understand estate law, including probate, wills and trusts.

Below you’ll find the basics of Utah’s probate laws and how they affect you. These key points will help you set your expectations as the probate process begins. This primer will prepare you for the most common aspects of estate settlement.

What is Probate?

Probate laws establish a procedure for distributing someone’s assets after they pass away. If the deceased pursued estate planning before they died, legally recognized instructions would be in place that a designated personal representative will execute by working with an estate attorney. In many instances, this is a probate lawyer or estate planning attorney.

If there is no will, the situation can get complicated. A court will appoint someone as a personal representative of the estate. Unless someone was previously nominated as personal representative by the deceased, courts tend to nominate the closest living adult relatives as personal representative.

Do All Estates Need to Go Through Probate?

Probate laws were put into place to ensure that the deceased’s wishes were honored or that a court or beneficiaries would settle their estate fairly if they didn’t leave behind a will. Utah law, however, makes exceptions for estates that meet specific requirements. Such estates can skip the probate process because the state believes the size of the estate doesn’t warrant court supervision to settle, or an estate’s assets were jointly owned in some way, or had a designated beneficiary. 

Monetary value determines the size of an estate. In this case, value only applies to assets that could be legally passed on by the deceased. A small estate (valued at $100,000 or less), and has no real property, can go through the more straightforward summary probate option in Utah. You can settle such estates quickly because they don’t require a court to oversee asset disbursement. 

Likewise, jointly-owned assets don’t go through probate if there is a living survivor (such as a spouse) or they include a named beneficiary, which is common with retirement accounts. The remaining assets will still go through probate, but the process can move much faster without these assets.

Formal vs. Informal Probate

In concept, probate settles estate matters quickly and without conflict. However, when estate disbursement involves several people or the beneficiaries have strained relationships, a straightforward process can become stressful, complicated, and challenging to complete. Formal and informal probate describes a court’s level of involvement in the process depending on how cooperative heirs are.

Formal probate plays out in court and sees a judge overseeing the process. When beneficiaries contest asset distribution, a judge will guide the involved parties to an agreement. If that’s not possible, they will instead make a ruling themselves. A judge may also supervise and approve actions at every step to prevent further conflicts from cropping up. Formal probates are more time-consuming and could see asset distribution play out in ways you may disagree with.

Informal probate occurs when all beneficiaries are in agreement. Because there are no arguments over the division of assets, the actual distribution doesn’t take place in court under the guidance of a judge. However, someone has to take the step to become the personal representative, making them responsible for resolving any debt issues related to the estate, alerting creditors and beneficiaries, and supervising asset distribution. There’s more responsibility involved, but an estate lawyer can guide you through the steps you need to take should you elect to be the personal representative.

Is Probate Mandatory?

Probate does not happen automatically. Instead, an heir needs to file for probate to settle the estate properly before other parties take action, as described above. It isn’t necessary to go through probate at all, but it could be in your best interests even if you don’t want anything from the estate. 

Lingering debt and taxes are a thorny problem when someone passes. Banks, creditors, and the IRS don’t wipe a debt simply because someone has died. Probate will put a hold on collection activity. At the same time, descendants and beneficiaries work out how they want to pay these debts on behalf of the deceased (many choose to use assets from the estate for this purpose). Without probate, creditors could claim assets to recover their losses. 

On rare occasions, someone may leave behind more than one will without clarifying which one to enforce. Probate creates a holding period for descendants and courts to decide.

Trust Proven Law With Your Probate Needs

Experiencing a loved one’s death is already difficult, and settling an estate can exacerbate those feelings. 

At ProvenLaw, we specialize in numerous aspects of probate and estate planning, including the power of attorney, guardianship, trusts, healthcare directives, and wills. Whether you need an estate planning attorney to help you legalize your final wishes or you’re seeking the advice of a probate lawyer to help you through the process, our firm can help you with experience and compassion. 

Contact us to learn more and to set up an appointment.