Utah Probate In A Nutshell

This blog post boils Utah probate down to its most basic points.

When a loved one passes away without estate planning, his or her estate needs to be probated. This means that in order for this person’s estate to be distributed, the heirs or beneficiaries need to go to court. Not all estates need to be probated but the ones that do require some court involvement and certain steps must be taken. The probate process can be lengthy and expensive but it can also be quite useful in helping someone’s estate end up in the right hands.

Probate Vocabulary

In order to better understand how the probate process works, let’s start with some basic vocabulary and key words.

  • Decedent: this is the deceased person who passed away leaving behind an estate

  • Estate: all property, assets and personal belongings owned by the decedent at the time of his or her death including contractual obligations and debt

  • Heirs/Beneficiaries/Devisees: these are the people who will receive a portion of the decedent’s estate according to Utah intestacy laws or the decedent’s will

  • Testate/Intestate: when someone dies leaving a will, it is said that this person died testate; when someone dies without a will, it is said that this person died intestate

  • Executor/Administrator/Personal Representative: the executor is the person in charge of the probate process when someone dies testate (with a will); the administrator is the person in charge of the probate process when the decedent died intestate (when there is no will); the personal representative is the name given to the executor or the administrator who represents the estate

  • Letters Testamentary/Letters of Administration: this is the document issued by the probate court appointing the personal representative in a probate case involving a will (Letters Testamentary) or without a will (Letters of Administration)

What’s Next?

Now that you are better acquainted with probate terminology, let’s talk about the probate process.

The first step is to file an application or petition for informal or formal probate with a probate court in Utah. Informal probate proceedings require a copy of the decedent’s death certificate and will when there is one. Unless all interested parties sign a waiver of notice, the court will schedule a hearing before appointing the personal representative. Formal probate involves disputes or interested parties that have not come to an agreement so a hearing is required.

If there are no objections or all parties have been notified and heard, the court will appoint someone to serve as the personal representative of the estate and issue letters testamentary or of administration. At this point, the personal representative has legal authority to administer the estate which involves paying taxes, paying off the decedent’s debts, and distributing the estate to the decedent’s heirs, beneficiaries or devisees.

How long does a probate case take on average in Utah?

According to Salt Lake County, most probate cases take four to five months. The length of the probate process depends on several factors including objections raised during the process by interested parties and the nature of the estate’s assets. In case of objections, some Utah courts require mediation which can expedite the final outcome.

How long do I have to begin the probate process in Utah? What happens if I miss the mark?

Keep in mind that under Utah law, probate proceedings can begin up to three years from the decedent’s date of death. After three years, a will can no longer be probated but you can then request a determination of heirs to distribute the decedent’s estate properly.

Final Considerations

Most probate courts have detailed websites with specific information on how to file documents in a probate case including templates and links to applicable statutes. In addition, there are many tools available to you to avoid probate altogether. But if avoiding probate is not possible, a probate case handled by an experienced attorney does not have to be expensive nor prolonged.

If you have questions about an ongoing probate case or is interested in starting one, contact me today for a free initial consultation. You can reach me, Randa, at (801) 608-4706 or