We Can Guide You Through The Probate Process

Experienced attorney helping families who have lost a loved one

When someone dies, their estate often has to go through probate. While family members are still dealing with their loss, they are faced with the question of what will happen to their loved one’s property. Many people aren’t sure how probate works and don’t know what they need to do. Hongo Law Office, LLLC can help families during this difficult time.

Attorney Yuka Hongo can guide you through the probate process in Hawaii every step of the way. An experienced probate lawyer, she knows the types of issues that can come up and how to handle them to make sure a loved one’s assets are protected as much as possible. She can also answer any questions you have.

Probate can be a lengthy and frustrating process, especially for family members who live far away. Attorney Hongo has lived and worked in Japan and the United States and works with clients in both countries. Her unique experience and background has proven useful in helping clients overcome the language and cultural barriers they face when going through probate.

What is probate?

After someone dies, probate is the legal process of transferring their property to other people. These people are usually spouses, children, grandchildren or other relatives of the person who died, but may also include friends and charitable organizations. In Hawaii, this process is conducted in the Circuit Courts.

Before any property is distributed, the estate must be settled. Creditors have the right to make claims against the estate to settle debts. Taxes must also be paid. The property that remains is then distributed to beneficiaries. It’s a fairly routine process, but one that comes at a time when family members are still mourning a loved one.

Is probate required if there is a will?

Many people think that having a last will and testament can help their families avoid the probate process, but that is not the case. In fact, part of the probate process is checking to ensure that the will is valid. A will does allow you to decide what will happen to your property and who the beneficiaries will be.

Wills that are found to be valid are generally followed. However, a will can be contested. While these challenges are not always successful, it can lead to delays, attorney’s fees and court costs for family members. The will also becomes public record in probate, meaning anyone will be allowed to view its contents.

Is there any way to avoid probate?

In Hawaii, probate is required if a person died and was the sole owner of any real estate. It is also required if the value of all personal property that person owned is worth $100,000 or more. (Personal property means assets other than real estate, such as bank accounts, stocks and vehicles.) If a person was not the sole owner of real estate and had personal property with a total value of less than $100,000, the estate can go through a simpler small estate process.

The other way to avoid probate is to have an effective estate plan in place. For example, different types of trusts can be set up during someone’s life that distribute financial assets to another person after death. Transfer on death deeds can be used to transfer ownership of a home or other real estate.

What happens during probate?

There are several steps that are followed when an estate goes through probate. Attorney Hongo can guide your family through the process every step of the way to ensure it is conducted properly and to protect the estate’s assets as much as possible.

  • The will needs to be authenticated. If there is a will, a judge will determine if it is valid. This may involve a court hearing, during which the will can be contested, if a family member wishes to do so.
  • A personal representative is appointed. This is the person who will oversee the administration of the estate. A personal representative (also known as an executor) can be named in the will. If there is no will, the court will appoint someone as personal representative, often a spouse or child of the person who died.
  • Assets are inventoried. All the person’s property, or assets, are collected and inventoried. Some property will need to be appraised to determine value. This includes real estate, vehicles and other property, such as jewelry.
  • Creditors are notified. By law, creditors must be identified and notified that the person has died. A notice is also published in a local newspaper. Creditors have a limited amount of time in which to make a claim against the estate.
  • Creditors are paid. Claims found to be valid by the court are paid from the estate.
  • Taxes are paid. These includes the person’s final federal and state income taxes, as well as estate taxes and gift taxes. Returns also need to be filed.
  • The remainder of the estate is distributed. After all bills and taxes have been paid, the personal administrator can distribute the remainder of the assets as instructed in the will. If there is no will, the court will determine how the assets will be distributed.

Learn more about we can help you work through the probate process. Contact us to schedule a consultation at a time that is convenient for you. Our office is in Honolulu. Attorney Hongo also meets with clients in Japan, which she typically visits twice a year. She is also available for phone and video conference consultations.