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Probate inventory is a detailed listing of all items in an estate, prepared for the purpose of moving the estate through probate and addressing tax concerns associated with the estate. In some regions, the inventory must be filed in court with other probate documents, and it must also be made available to any interested parties. It is prepared by the executor or a representative, and may involve input from people like appraisers if their expertise is deemed necessary.
In the probate inventory, the executor lists the items in a person's estate and their estimated value at time of death. Items of like kind tend to be grouped together. Instead of listing all furniture or all kitchenware, for example, the executor would say “furniture” or “kitchen items” and provide an estimate of the value of everything together. For more expensive items like houses, cars, works of art, complex electronics, and so forth, individual detailed inventory listings would be provided.
In addition, the probate inventory provides information about liens and ownership, if known. If there are liens or encumbrances, they must be listed to provide a complete picture. The probate inventory may also note that some items appear to have been borrowed, and may not actually belong to the estate. Interested parties who have the title to items listed in the probate inventory can provide proof so their items will be returned as the estate is broken up and processed.
For many inventories, value is relatively easy to estimate and requires no special skills. The executor may make some phone calls to do basic research on the value of things like houses and cars. For specialty items like art and collectibles, however, an expert may be required. Executors are required to complete their duties accurately and fairly, and disputes over the value of an estate can become very heated, making it important to value items in the inventory accurately. These values may be used to determine how the estate is distributed and also to determine tax rates and probate fees.
The completed inventory can be used for accounting and tax purposes as the estate is wound up. It is also kept on record with other items pertaining to the will and estate for the purpose of future reference. People concerned about the estate can consult the probate inventory to learn more about what was in the estate and how it was valued, and if there are disputes in the future, the documentation can be used to support or refute arguments. Such documents are also useful from a historical perspective; historical archives often keep probate records for people interested in learning more about how previous generations lived and died.