Probate is the legal process through which a deceased person's assets are transferred to living survivors. In Mississippi, probate cases typically take between four months and a year to complete. However, probate is only required when the deceased owned property solely in his name. Jointly held property is usually excluded.
The Probate Process
When someone dies in Mississippi, the task of managing the probate process, distributing assets and paying bills falls to a "personal representative." This individual is usually named in the deceased person's will as the executor of the estate. If there is no will, the court appoints a personal representative. To be appointed as a personal representative, a person must be of legal age, mentally competent and a U.S. citizen, according to the Morton Law Firm. Convicted felons may not act as personal representatives.
If there is a will, the personal representative submits it to the court. If the will is valid and accounts for all the deceased's assets, the probate process ends there. If there is no will or if the will is invalid, a Mississippi probate court will oversee the distribution of property.
Joint Property and Other Exclusions
Even if there is no will, not all the deceased's assets have to pass through probate. First, any assets or property held jointly with another person simply pass to the other surviving owners. This commonly applies to houses and other real estate owned by a married couple when one person dies. The rule also applies to any joint bank or investment accounts.
Second, any account or insurance policy with a named beneficiary can be paid directly to the beneficiary without passing through probate. If a woman dies with $50,000 in a 401(k) retirement account and she has named her daughter as the beneficiary, for example, the daughter can take control of the account directly. Life insurance policies with named beneficiaries work the same way.
Third, Mississippi residents can hold "payable-on-death" bank accounts and "transferable-on-death" securities. These instruments are also transferable to the named beneficiary immediately after death. However, Mississippi does not allow transfer-on-death deeds for real estate or vehicle titles.
Mississippi allows survivors to claim bank accounts with balances below $12,500 without going through probate even if the accounts are not marked payable on death. To claim these accounts, a survivor must file with the bank a sworn affidavit attesting her right to the money along with a copy of the death certificate. The recipient must agree to pay any valid debts up to the balance of the account before taking ownership, however.