9 Common Probate Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)

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Going through the probate process is undoubtedly a challenging and emotional experience that requires dealing with legal procedures and paperwork. One of the most reliable ways to ensure that the process will run smoothly is to get legal advice or hire an attorney.

However, with a thoughtful and attentive approach, you can also probate the last will yourself. It is worth noting that probate laws vary from one state to another. Thus, probate in Wisconsin may differ significantly from the same process in, let’s say, Virginia. It is worth educating yourself on the subject to avoid the most common mistakes that sometimes result in additional expenses.

Below, you will find a list of the nine most common probate mistakes, ranging from not keeping accurate accounting records and distributing assets too soon to the lack of communication with beneficiaries and determining estate taxes incorrectly, among other things. Read on!

Lack of Accounting Records

Many families have a hard time making sure that the distribution of assets and expenses are accurate and transparent. It is crucial to keep a detailed account of all money that has been received and spent on behalf of the estate, including cash, checks, and credit card statements. This will allow you to avoid any claims of theft or mismanagement.

Distributing Assets Too Soon

This is one of the most common mistakes made during probate. It is not uncommon for beneficiaries to receive assets before the whole probate process is complete. Some of these assets include bank accounts, vehicles, jewelry, and collectibles. These assets should not be distributed until after the executor named in a will verifies that all assets have been properly accounted for distribution.

Lack of Communication With Beneficiaries

There is no single perfect way to conduct communication with beneficiaries, but it is essential to make sure that they are aware of everything happening with the estate. This can include providing them with a copy of the will, a list of assets, and any information about how the assets will be distributed. Some beneficiaries may also want to attend the probate court hearing, so it’s essential to inform them about this possibility as well.

Determining Estate Taxes Incorrectly

Another common mistake made during probate is failing to determine estate taxes accurately. In order to do this correctly, you must use the federal Estate and Gift Tax worksheets to determine whether or not any federal gift taxes were owed on gifts given in the year of death. The worksheets will also allow you to correctly calculate the estate taxes owed by subtracting any gift taxes paid from the estate tax due.

Neglecting to Ensure That Everything Has Been Accurately Transferred

When distributing assets from a deceased person’s estate, it is easy to overlook some things, such as ensuring an accurate accounting of all assets and that any outstanding debts have been paid off. It is best to check all documents, bills, statements, and other records regularly to make sure that everything has been properly transferred.

Not Updating the List of Beneficiaries Regularly

It is essential to update the last will and list of beneficiaries named in it whenever there are any changes. This will ensure that those who should get assets from your estate will still get them if you die unexpectedly. 

An author of the last will can do this by adding new names or removing old ones and then keep this updated list in a safe place at home or in a safe deposit box along with their original will and other important documents.

Not Knowing Beneficiaries’ Personal Information

Before distributing assets from the estate, it is crucial to make sure that an executor knows your beneficiaries’ personal information, such as their addresses, financial situations, and medical history. This will allow an executor to distribute assets more effectively and help avoid conflicts among family members.

Not Knowing How to Handle Assets in a Legal Dispute

Many people do not realize that certain assets may be in a legal dispute when distributing them from the estate. For example, if there is a lawsuit pending against the deceased person or a business with which they were involved, it is crucial to let beneficiaries know about this and make sure that they understand the possible consequences.

Failing to Make Sure Everything Is Finalized

It’s essential to make sure that everything is finalized before distributing assets. One of the most convenient ways to avoid this mistake is to have a will drafted and prepared for probate and then have an attorney review it one last time before distributing assets. This will also allow you to make sure that all forms, bills, statements, and other records are accurate and that all taxes owed have been paid.


When probating a will yourself, there is a higher possibility to overlook something or make an expensive mistake. However, you would not need to hire an attorney if you approach the process carefully. Avoiding distributing assets too soon is equally important to keep an eye on transferring them and closing the estate. 

However, it is also essential for an author of the last will to update it regularly and provide personal information about beneficiaries named in the will. It will allow for easing the communication and distribution processes between the executor and them later on.