Ask the Probate Judge—Welcome to the Probate Court
Rudd, appeared July 12, 2001, Albuquerque Journal, Business Outlook
Reprinted with permission
Editor's note: This column may not be quoted or reproduced
in whole or part without express written permission of the author.
Question: I've never heard of the County Probate Court. Where is it, and what does it do?
First, I will tell you what the Probate Court doesn't do. We have nothing to do with probation, warrants, or other criminal law matters. If you ask me if I can fix your parking ticket, I will jokingly say, "Only if you've died."
That's what the Probate Court does: probate is the court process to pass on the estates of individuals who have died and to appoint personal representatives to handle estate business. The personal representative distributes the deceased person's estate property, such as houses or bank accounts, to the rightful recipients. If a valid will exists, the personal representative must follow the deceased person's instructions in the will. The personal representative also pays the bills of the deceased person, files the final income tax return, pays estate taxes, if necessary, and divvies up household belongings.
State law limits the jurisdiction of the Probate Court, which can accept only informal probates. (The Second Judicial District Court can also accept informal probates, as well as formal and contested probate cases.) As Probate Judge, I do not preside over trials, and we have few, if any, hearings at the Court. The Probate Court is a court of paperwork, including, but not limited to, court forms (called pleadings), wills (if any), orders signed by the Judge, notices to creditors and others, and closing papers.
For congenial families with relatively straightforward cases, the Probate Court is inexpensive, quick, and helpful. In addition to handling hundreds of probate cases filed each year, Court staff and I assist the public, attorneys, and title companies with thousands of inquiries and title searches.
Probate Court cases can be filed with or without the help of an attorney. Do-it-yourself forms are available. These forms can be downloaded for free from the Court's web site, or purchased for $5.00 from the Court. After reviewing the packet of paperwork involved and the responsibilities of serving as personal representative of an estate, many people hire an attorney to help them.
The Probate Court is downtown on the sixth floor of the City-County building, just west of Civic Plaza, not in one of the several new courthouses under construction. The docketing fee to file a case is $30. The Probate Court's phone number is 768-4247.
Send questions about wills, trusts, probate, property and other estate issues, c/o of the Albuquerque Journal, and I will try to answer them in future columns
© 2002, Merri Rudd & Albuquerque Journal, All Rights Reserved