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MSU Extension discusses probate process and settling an estate

BOZEMAN — Montana State University Extension has published free guidance on settling a person’s estate after death, a process known as probate.

Extension has made the MontGuides “What is a Personal Representative” and “Probate” available online at http://www.montana.edu/estateplanning/eppublications.html. Paper copies are also available from county Extension or reservation offices.

The Montana Uniform Probate Code provides a flexible and simplified approach to probate administration, according to Wendy Wedum, MSU Extension Pondera County family consumer science and 4-H agent.

Probate takes place in district court in the Montana county where the deceased lived. During probate, a person’s will is verified before settling creditors’ claims, and heirs receive property according to Montana law.


A personal representative, what used to be an executor, who is named in a will and appointed by a district judge, is responsible for settling an estate. The PR may be a family member, friend, attorney, corporate entity — a bank or trust company — or a combination of those. The personal representative transfers real estate and personal property to their new owners.

“If you do not name a PR in your will, or if you die without writing a will, the district judge will appoint one for you,” said Wedum. “The Uniform Probate Code provides the order in which eligible persons may apply for appointment as a PR if the will does not specify one. In a marital situation, the surviving spouse has priority.”

MSU Extension family economics specialist Marsha Goetting added that an appointed PR is not necessary if all property held by the dead person is “non-probate,” such as property held in joint tenancy with right of survivorship, property held in trust, life insurance payable to a named beneficiary, transfer-on-death deeds on real property, among other examples.

Because estates vary, the schedule to complete the probate process can also. For some, the process takes six months, but the formal procedure typically averages about 10 months or longer. If an estate does not close within two years from the appointment of the PR, a district court judge can order the PR to appear in court to explain why the estate is not settled. The judge may order the estate closed within 30 days and declare no compensation for the attorney or PR.

Goetting and Wedum said the cost of probate depends on the size and complexity of the estate. Currently, the state initial filing fee to begin probate is $70 for filing a will. Other costs may include copying fees, newspaper notifications, appraisals, and expenses for auctions or property sales. The major costs are the fees for the PR and attorney for their services.

– Montana State University Extension




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