What is probate?

Probate is the judicial (i.e. boring and occasionally expensive) process through which a person’s estate is calculated and distributed after their death. The basic steps – which are generally supervised by the probate court – include:

  • “Proving” or authenticating the deceased person’s (the “decedent’s”) last will and testament (if one exists). In other words, the court confirming that the will was created by the decedent and is valid;

  • The court appointing a personal representative to help administer the decedent’s estate (the “executor”). If no one is named in the will, the court will choose someone, like a family member of the decedent.

  • With the executor’s help, the decedent’s assets and property are identified and located, and appraised for value.

  • The decedent’s creditors are notified, and the executor pays the decedent’s valid debts, claims, and taxes (including estate taxes, if any) using money from the estate.

  • The executor, generally after receiving court approval, distributes any remaining assets to the decedent’s beneficiaries in accordance with the decedent’s will (or according to state law, if there is no will).

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