A person who died is called a “decedent.” “Going through probate” means the probate court makes sure the decedent’s bills are paid and oversees the distribution of the decedent’s “assets” — the decedent’s belongings, money and real estate.
If the decedent died with a will, someone — usually a family member or close friend — takes the will to the Probate Division of Superior Court. The court will appoint the “executor” and will oversee the payment of debts and distribution of property according to the terms of the will.
If you think there is a will but you cannot find it, check with the probate court in the county where the decedent lived at the time the will might have been signed. Sometimes people file their wills with their probate court for safekeeping.
If the decedent died without a will and there is money, real estate or valuable belongings that did not automatically go to other people at the time of death, someone — usually a family member or close friend — must notify the probate court of the death. In this instance, “going through probate” means having the probate court appoint an “administrator” and oversee the payment of debts and the distribution of assets according to the laws of the State of Vermont.
If the decedent died without a will and all the assets passed to others at the time of death, there is no need to go through probate.
Examples of how assets can be distributed without going through probate:
|If the decedent owned real estate as joint tenants or had joint accounts:
||It will go to the other joint tenants or joint account holders.
|If the decedent own real estate as tenants by the entirety:
||It will go to the decedent’s spouse.
|If the decedent had money or assets in a "pay on death account":
||It will go to the person or people listed as the beneficiary of the account.
|If the decedent had a life estate:
||It will go to the person or people who own the remainder interest.
Even if there is a will, all assets in the table above will be distributed according to the table, and not according to the will.
Contact us if you have more questions. Fill out our form and we will call you back. Your information will be sent to Legal Services Vermont, which screens requests for help for both Vermont Legal Aid and Legal Services Vermont. You can also call us at 1-800-889-2047.
You can also find a private lawyer to discuss going through probate by contacting the Vermont Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service at 1-800-639-7036.
See the Vermont Judiciary website for more information about probate court, wills and estates.