What is Probate?
Probate is the legal process for family members or “heirs” to obtain authority from the Court to be able to handle a deceased person’s property, personal affairs and other business items. The person who has died is called a “decedent” and the property left by the decedent is called the “estate.”
The Probate Court appoints a legally qualified person, called the “Personal Representative,” also known as the Executor, to manage and settle the decedent’s business and property affairs. Personal Representatives take on a very big responsibility, known as a “fiduciary duty,” to follow state law, address creditors, and pass the decedent’s property to the rightful recipients.
The property is transferred according to the decedent’s Last Will and Testament if they had one at death, or according to New Mexico’s laws of Intestate Succession. Rightful recipients might include heirs, people listed in the Will, or Creditors (people or businesses who are owed money by the deceased person).
The Taos County Probate Court has jurisdiction over a Probate case If:
- It is an informal proceeding, i.e. no formal hearing and no formal oversight by the Court is required
- The case is uncontested and undisputed, meaning that all heirs are in agreement with who should be appointed as the Personal Representative and how the property should be distributed
- The decedent was domiciled in Taos County, meaning that Taos County was their permanent place of residence
- The decedent lived outside of New Mexico but owned property in Taos County
State law allows the Probate Courts to:
- Admit Wills to informal Probate if presented within three years of death
- Appoint Personal Representatives informally (without a hearing) when there is no Will
- Appoint Special Administrators, which are persons who have limited authority by the Court to perform a limited and specific job such as safeguarding the decedent’s home or pets until a Personal Representative with full authority can be appointed
The Probate Court has “concurrent jurisdiction” with the District Court, meaning that the District Court can oversee the same types of cases as the Probate Court. The District Court also has much higher jurisdiction over all other cases, including formal probates, determinations of heirship, contested cases, property disputes, estates of missing and protected persons, supervised administrations, guardianships and conservatorships, trust matters, and other legal issues.
Source of Information
The Probate Court serves as a neutral and general source of information on the probate process and provides access to public records that have been filed with the Court.
Probate Judges can also perform wedding ceremonies within their county.