Probate is the process of administering and settling an estate after a person dies. In South Carolina, probate often takes 8-12 months. It includes the following steps:
- Filing the will and application at the probate court in order to be appointed personal representative, which was formerly known as executor or executrix. In the absence of a will, heirs must apply to be appointed personal representative of the estate.
- Marshaling, or collecting, the assets. This means that you have to find out everything the deceased owned. You need to file a list, known as an “inventory and appraisement,” with the probate court. It is generally best to consolidate all the estate funds to the extent possible. Bills and bequests should be paid from a single checking account so that you can keep track of all expenditures.
- Paying bills and taxes. If a state or federal estate tax return is needed, it must be filed within nine months of the date of death. If you miss this deadline and the estate is taxable, severe penalties and interest may apply. If you do not have all the information available in time, you can file for an extension and pay your best estimate of the tax due.
- Filing tax returns. You must also file a final income tax return for the decedent and, if the estate holds any assets and earns interest or dividends, an income tax return for the estate as well. If the estate does earn income during the administration process, it will have to obtain its own tax identification number in order to keep track of such earnings.
- Distributing property to the heirs and legatees. Generally, personal representatives do not pay out all of the estate assets until the period runs out for creditors to make claims, which can be as long as a year after the date of death. But once the claims period expires, he or she can distribute most of the assets, retaining a reserve for the costs of closing out the estate.
- Filing a final accounting. The executor must file an accounting with the probate court listing any income to the estate since the date of death and all expenses and estate distributions. Once the court approves this final accounting, the personal representative can distribute whatever is left in the closing reserve and finish his or her work.