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Put simply, Probate is the process by which legal title to property is changed from that of the deceased to their beneficiaries. It is only necessary for property held solely by the deceased, not for property which was co-owned or has a legal beneficiary. Probate proceeds either in accord with a Last Will and Testament, if one was made, or State Law, if someone dies without a Last Will and Testament (which is called dying “intestate.”) In the case of intestacy, proceeds are distributed to the nearest family members, according to a formula given in State Law.

The following property passes outside a Last Will and Testament and is not subject to Probate:

  1. Real property held in joint tenancy with the right of survivorship;
  2. Jointly-held accounts, including bank and brokerage accounts;
  3. Life insurance proceeds with a named beneficiary;
  4. Accounts which have a pay-on-death clause or a named beneficiary, including bank accounts, brokerage accounts, IRA’s, etc.; and
  5. Property already held in Trust, including real property.

This means that the majority of a person’s possessions may pass outside a Last Will and Testament and thus outside the Probate process.

The probate process includes notice to both the creditors and the heirs of the deceased and takes anywhere from six months to several years from start to finish, depending on the complexity of the estate.

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James 'J Law' Lawrence

A Christian Estate and Elder Law Attorney

James "J Law" Lawrence is a cum laude graduate of Lincoln Memorial University's Duncan School of Law in Knoxville, Tennessee. As a law student, James served on both Law Review and Moot Court. Mr. Lawrence also holds a Master of Divinity degree from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He was a foreign exchange student at Durham University in England, and graduated from Hope College in Holland, Michigan with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy.

James is an active member of his local church, where he plays French Horn as part of the music ministry. He has also served as a Sunday School teacher and Deacon. In the car, J Law listens to WayFM, K-LOVE and National Public Radio!

James' wife, Lara, is a professional piano player. They have six children and two grandsons.

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James 'J Law' Lawrence