Probate is a term often met with many questions — about logistics and necessity — yet it plays a crucial role in the settling of estates after someone passes away. 

Essentially, probate is the legal process through which a deceased person’s assets are distributed to their heirs and beneficiaries. It involves validating the deceased’s will (if there is one), identifying and taking inventory of their assets, paying off any outstanding debts and taxes, and ultimately distributing what remains.

While probate may be a necessary step to ensure that assets are transferred properly, it can also be complex and time-consuming, often involving court proceedings and legal fees. 

Understanding the basics of probate is essential for anyone involved in estate planning or tasked with managing the affairs of a deceased loved one.

How Does Probate Work?

While probate serves an important purpose, the process can be lengthy and costly when lawyers are involved. The following is a basic overview of what it entails:

1: Will Verification

When probating a will, the initial step taken by the probate court is to certify the authenticity and validity of the document. This step prevents coerced or tampered wills from dictating false intentions. It’s crucial to understand that a will cannot be considered legally valid until it is admitted into probate in a court-supervised proceeding; in essence, until probate occurs, the will is unauthenticated.

2: Executor Appointment

The executor stipulated in the will is officially appointed to oversee the probate procedures and distribution of the property to potential beneficiaries and primary heirs. The court decides if the named executor in the will can carry out the duty judiciously and according to the deceased person’s wishes.

3. Asset Assessment

Probate also serves to verify specific details about estate assets. For example, all assets are confirmed to rightfully belong to the deceased. Probate safeguards these assets and allocates them according to the decedent’s expressed wishes.

4. Beneficiary Identification

Probating a will verifies that beneficiaries are alive and capable of inheriting the assets that are willed to them. This is necessary because certain survivors can’t inherit (minors, for example) and may require additional proceedings, such as the appointment of a guardian for a minor through a formal probate proceeding.

5. Debt Settlement

The probate process confirms that the estate’s debts are settled.

6. Asset Disbursement

Probating an estate helps to make sure the entire estate is closed after the administration of estate assets to beneficiaries.

Together, each of these steps helps to ensure that a decedent’s last wishes are legally met.

What will an attorney charge to handle your California probate? Find out with our free probate calculator >>

Probate Exemptions

Before anything else, it’s important to determine if probate is required. Here are some common situations that don’t require probate or legal representation:

  • Assets held jointly with rights of survivorship
  • Assets or types of property with named beneficiaries who are payable upon the death of the testator or owner of the personal property
  • Revocable living trusts that render probate unnecessary through hiring a legal representative
  • Small estates that simply require an estate affidavit from the spouse or survivors of the decedent to take ownership of the real property. 

What Happens If There Is No Will?

Let’s say the deceased died intestate, or without a will. Assets will be distributed among survivors according to the state’s laws on intestate succession. Despite the common misconception that probate can be avoided in the absence of a will, the process will still be supervised by a probate court. 

If there is a will, the probate process will proceed as a testate estate; if there isn’t one, the process proceeds as an intestate estate. Either way, probate is required.

Not Sure How To Navigate the Probate Process? With Our Help, It’s Easy!

The money, time, and energy required to probate a will successfully can lead to several questions. How can someone easily navigate probate proceedings or avoid them entirely? This is why A People’s Choice exists—to provide you with the helpful information and legal documents needed for a successful probate process at affordable costs.

If you’re ready to start probate, contact us today. Likewise, if you need help with estate planning, we’re here for you!