In Indiana, a probate judge has a multi-faceted role that involves managing the legal matters of a decedent or and incapacitated person’s estate. Validating wills and overseeing the distribution of assets are a few of the many related responsibilities probate judges perform.
Typical roles and responsibilities
Probate judges play an active role in reviewing and validating a deceased person’s will. If the will is unclear, the judge must interpret the person’s wishes regarding asset distribution. During the proceedings, the judge works through any other issues and settles arising disputes. The judge will not need to play a significant role if the will is clear and uncontested.
The probate process
A probate judge administers the entire probate process for an estate. Activities include validating the will, notifying the deceased’s creditors and evaluating existing financial and legal claims to determine their validity. Valid claims are paid out of the estate’s assets before the judge approves any distributions to heirs.
Suppose the deceased had a will, and no one contests it. In that case, the judge mainly reviews and signs orders from the estate’s executor, which serves as documentation for officially opening the estate, authorizing asset sales and closing the estate. Upon completion of probate, the judge signs an order to finalize and close the estate.
Contested wills and other issues
If an estate’s executor, beneficiaries or heirs-at-law contest the will or dispute its contents, the probate judge plays a more significant role in the proceedings. Heirs-at-law are close relations to the deceased and are legally entitled to inherit if the deceased dies without a will.
If a will exists, the probate judge addresses any challenges to its validity and settles other disputes to ensure a fair resolution for all parties. If a disagreement turns into litigation in probate court, the probate judge presides over the case.
Judges also handle issues such as whether the will conforms to state laws, the decedent’s mental state when they signed the will, and disputes, such as if someone claims the decedent was coerced into writing their will a certain way. These challenges usually involve litigation, which requires the expertise of the probate judge.
When no will exists
When someone dies intestate or without a will, the probate judge chooses a personal representative to manage the deceased’s estate. If the heirs-at-law agree on how to distribute the assets, the judge plays a minimal role that involves signing orders as the estate moves through the proceedings.
A probate judge helps navigate the complex process of managing and distributing an estate’s assets. They also settle disputes and other issues to honor the deceased’s wishes or, in the absence of a will, honor state laws and the rights of legal heirs.