What is probate?

Probate is the legal process of allocating the estate to the lawful heirs and paying the debts and obligations of the deceased. The process typically includes:

  • An individual being appointed by the court to function as the personal representative or executor of the estate. This person is usually identified in the will. The court will appoint a personal representative, typically the spouse, or next of kin, if there is no will.
  • Validating the will.
  • Letting all heirs, beneficiaries and creditors know that the will has been probated. Notice to Creditors is usually done through a notice in the newspaper of record. Creditors must file a claim against the estate to establish the amount due them. The heirs and beneficiaries are given a copy of the will and a direct correspondence regarding the assets they will inherit.
  • In accordance with the will or state law, organizing the estate by the personal representative.
  • A petition must be filed by the spouse or the selected personal representative with the court following the death. Court costs must be paid for the process of probate. 
  • Probation of a will might require legal assistance, depending on the size and complexity of the assets to probate.

If the deceased and someone else jointly owned assets, those assets may not be subject to probate. The proceeds of a life insurance policy or Individual Retirement Account (IRA) will be paid to the beneficiary and may also not be subject to probate.