South Carolina law will determine what happens to a person’s assets after death if the person does not leave a will or other estate planning documents. This is known as dying intestate. However, before assets are passed to beneficiaries, there is usually a probate process.
If there is a will, the probate process determines whether the will is valid. Wills name an executor to oversee what happens to the estate. If there is no will, the court names an estate administrator to take a similar role. The executor must file the will with the probate court. At the hearing, people may raise objections to the will or to the choice of executor. The first step of probate for the executor is to locate and secure the assets. In some cases, this can actually mean physically finding some assets and making sure they are put in a safe place. If there is a home, then taxes, mortgages, insurance and any other payments must be made. It may be necessary to determine the value of some assets as of the date of the person’s death, which an appraiser can do.
The executor must locate, inform and pay creditors as well as prepare tax returns and pay any taxes. Finally, once the executor has permission from the court, assets are distributed to beneficiaries.
There may be certain assets that do not pass through probate. For example, retirement accounts and life insurance are passed through beneficiary designation. Some people create a trust that they place all their assets in to avoid the probate process. One advantage of avoiding probate with the help of a lawyer is that the estate plan remains private. It also ensures that assets pass immediately to beneficiaries instead of after the months-long process of probate. If the estate is a small one, it might not have to pass through probate.