The probate process is the state procedure for distributing the property of a person who has passed away without a valid will in effect.  The probate process has many stages, including the appointing of an executor, management of debts, and distribution of the property.  One important step is the inventorying of the deceased person’s property.

The probate estate inventory process involves the truthful and accurate listing of the entirety of the deceased person’s belongings.  This can include:

  • Real property such as homes, condos, or apartments
  • Personal property such as furniture, electronics, clothing, major appliances, tools, etc.
  • Valuables such as heirlooms and jewelry
  • Larger property like cars, boats, and other vehicles
  • In some cases, intangible assets that can be transferred to another person, like bank account contents and some types of securities

Basically, the purpose of the inventorying stage is to determine which assets the person owned.  This will help the court decide which persons receive the various items.  In the process of inventorying, the court may require that the property items be valued according to market prices, especially if the beneficiary will be receiving money instead of the actual item. 

Also, some of the items may be subject estate taxes, and the inventorying process is greatly tied to tax laws.  In fact, in many jurisdictions, some estates may not be subject to certain probate provisions if the property doesn’t amount to a certain dollar value. 

How is the Property Inventoried?

The property may be inventoried by the deceased person’s executor, which is a person who is entrusted with handling such matters after their death.  If no executor was named, the court may appoint one, who can then oversee the inventorying of property. 

In some cases, the executor may also enlist expert professional may be needed, especially if there is some dispute as to the value or ownership of a piece of property.  For example, a property appraiser can be hired to determine the value of a home, or a lawyer can be hired to determine how property should be classified.

What if There is a Disagreement Over the Inventorying?

This is also a common problem during the probate process.  Disputes over probate estate inventory can arise due to:

  • Errors:  Errors and mistakes can be made by the executor, since the executor is often a close friend or relative of the deceased person, and may not have experience in the inventory process. 
  • Outright Fraud:  The inventory stage can often be a focus of fraud and scams.  For instance, an appraiser may intentionally misstate the price of an item, either because they or another beneficiary are interested in the property. 

Thus, it’s important to work only with trusted person who knew the deceased person well.  If possible, the inventorying should be done by a person who is familiar with the testator’s general intentions and desires regarding their property.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Assistance With Probate Estate Inventory Issues?

The inventory process can be a major project, especially if there is a significant amount of property involved.   You should be working with an experienced wills/trusts/estates lawyer when dealing with probate requirements.  A qualified probate lawyercan help you avoid various delays and disputes associated with property distribution.  Also, an attorney near you can help inform you of any changes to the laws in your region.