Probate and estate settlement costs an average of $14k and often takes up 12
hours of your week, every week, for the next year.
It’s a pretty wild amount of work.
Fortunately, there are tons of free and helpful probate tools / resources that make this process easier and faster.
Here are our favorites, separated by category:
Free Probate Help: 52 Estate Settlement Tools and Resources We Love
Guides and Resources for Understanding Probate
The best upfront investment of your time when starting probate is really getting to the heart of what you’re responsible for.
These guides help you do that:
Tools for Getting Through Probate
Once you understand what you have to do, tools that expedite parts of the process make more sense.
Here are a few tools that make probate a bit simpler:
Financial Assistance & Tax Professionals
Probate and estate settlement boil down to forms and taxes. When you’re dealing with a lot of assets, paying someone to make sure you are paying as little tax as possible can more than pay for their services.
Here are some places to start:
#15 Smart Asset — financial advisor directory
#16 Financial Advisor Learning Center — Site by Schwab on all things financial planner
#17 National Association of Estate Planners and Council — Database of estate professionals
#18 Probate / Surety Bonds — just Google “probate bonds near me”.
Finding Estate Assets
Finding someone’s stuff, both tangible and intangible, can be harder than you’d think.
Here are few places to start:
#19 MIB Life Insurance Policy Locator — Search for life insurance policies
#20 How to Find a Will — It may be harder than you think!
#21 How to Access a Safe Deposit Box — What you need to bring
#22 Safe Deposit Regulations By State — Who can access a safe deposit box changes by state!
#23 Unclaimed.org — Search assets of the deceased
#24 National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits — Double check that there aren’t any 401ks or retirement accounts you weren’t aware of.
#25 PBGC Pension Search — Search for unclaimed American pensions.
#26 Finding Canadian Pensions — Search for Canadian pensions.
Determining an Asset’s Value
Once you know an estate asset exists, the next step is to place an approximate value on it. Outside of assets with an exact asset value (e.g. an IRA), a lot of property and personal assets are subject to your best and honest guess, which will then be reviewed by the probate court.
Here are some ways to start tacking on a value to the items you find:
#27 Appraisers Association of America — Fine and decorative art appraisals
#28 American Society of Appraisers (ASA) — Asset appraisals by type
#29 Zillow — Approximate home value
Doing probate yourself isn’t always an option. Certain states require you to work with a lawyer, other times an estate is complex enough or disputes arise that mean make getting a lawyer a no-brainer.
Here’s where to find some good ones:
#30 Probate Lawyer Directory — a nice directory of probate lawyers
#31 Probate Court and Probate Clerk Directory — Find your local probate court and clerk in a few seconds
#32 Lawyers.com — Search for probate lawyers
#33 Do You Even Need a Lawyer for Probate? — Nice breakdown of when you need to hire a lawyer.
Planning Memorials & Services
There’s no wrong or right way to honor someone’s life. Here’s a bunch of resources on different kinds of services and costs.
#34 Legacy.com — Advice, online memorials, and obituary submissions
#37 LifeWeb360 - LifeWeb 360 helps communities that have lost a loved one gather memories and celebrate their life authentically.
#41 Funeralocity — Compare funeral home costs
#42 Federal Trade Commission (FTC) — General / helpful end-of-life information
Dealing With Loss & Grief
The fastest path to burnout during estate settlement is to neglect your mental health.
#43 Good Grief — site full of resources about handling grief
#44 Therapist Directory — directory for therapists by city
#45 BetterHelp — online therapy
#46 PHILOTIMO Life - Corporate Grief training
#49 R/Grief Support — a forum of people navigating loss together
#50 R/Widowers — similar but specifically for widowers.
#51 National Widowers Organization — a dense resource for widowers
#52 Sisterhood of Widows — female-specific support group for widowers
+ Libraries, Churches, Local Groups — Don’t forget to look into the (often overlooked) options available to you within your local community!
Probate and Estate Settlement FAQ
Here are a few of the most common probate and estate settlement questions we see from the Atticus community.
What does probate really mean?
Probate is the government’s way of making sure that when a person dies, the right stuff goes to the right people (including the taxes the government wants).
One of the most important steps to take when starting probate is to really get a good idea of what you have to do. You can figure out probate in 15 minutes with this Beginner’s Guide to Probate.
Can I avoid probate?
In some rare cases, yes, but that’s often if the deceased didn’t own a home and did not have much property. This blog explains it in detail: How to Avoid Probate.
Do I need a lawyer for probate?
Like most things in probate, it depends. Some states require a lawyer. Others don’t.
In general, small to moderate estates (<$1 million in assets) can likely get through it without one, but a probate lawyer can streamline the process, resolve disputes, and are well worth it in some situations. Learn more: Do I Even Need a Probate Lawyer?
Here are a few other things to consider when thinking about hiring a lawyer:
Are you already fighting with your siblings/have any bad relationships?
Are the assets really complicated?
Is there a well set-up trust or is it all over the place?
How big is the estate?
Is the will detailed or is it a big estate with a shallow will?
Do you want to spend extra money to get through this quicker?
What if I don’t live in the same state as the deceased?
If you don’t live in the same state, you may have to appoint a “resident agent” that can act on your behalf. Kind of like a lesser version of giving someone power of attorney. This will help you avoid having to take too many trips back to the jurisdiction.
In short, you don’t have to live in the same state, but it definitely helps with logistics.
What are the main probate deadlines?
Filing notice to creditors within 30-90 days (depending on the state) is a biggie. As is filing the will (if there is one) with the court.
Outside of that, delaying probate means delaying your or the beneficiaries inheritance, and you can’t take ownership of certain assets until it is complete.
How long does probate take?
Probate typically lasts 12-18 months, but can stretch into multiple years when disputes arise.
How much does probate cost?
It really depends, but it usually averages out to around $14k, but remember that the money comes from the estate’s existing funds.
- Usually 5% of the estate goes to the executor.
- ~0.5% of the bond value goes to the bond company
- Court filing fees that vary but usually are a few hundred dollars
- Attorney fees (if you use them) — easily a few grand.
- Filing notice to creditor fees (newspaper announcement)
- Any bank account fees when opening and closing the estate account
- The time and opportunity cost of all the time you spend working on probate
Where can I get the probate forms I need?
While some states or provinces provide probate forms online, the availability or reliability may vary based upon the staffing & resources of each probate court. The easiest way to get all the forms you need is through a probate forms library. People can search for probate forms across every USA or Canada jurisdiction and automatically filter necessary forms based upon asset types or various other situational factors.
Outside of that, you need to find the relevant probate court and drop by in person or download them via their website.
What expenses can executors claim?
Really anything that involves managing and dissolving an estate can be written off. Learn more about the executor expenses you can write off: Complete List of Executor Expenses.
There’s no automated way through probate
One point reiterating is that probate and estate settlement are long and tedious processes involving local governments, taxes, and everything else most people try to avoid as much as possible in their day-to-day lives.
So while these tools make this process a LOT easier, it’s a good mental exercise to go ahead and prepare for this to be a lot of work and focus on making steady, consistent progress.
That wraps up our free probate tools and resources list. Have any you love that you don't see here? Have questions? Either way, drop us a quick comment below!