When a person dies, his loved ones often discover that some or all of the decedent’s property cannot be transferred to the heirs or beneficiaries without a court order. The process of obtaining the appropriate court authorization is called “probate.” While it is important to have an attorney familiar with probate law to assist and advise with probate, it is also helpful and often comforting to have some background on the general nature of the probate process. One source for that general knowledge is found in the Estate Planning for Dummies book.
The following is just an excerpt from a website article titled “Probing Probate: What You Should Know” by N. Brian Caverly, Esq. and Jordan S. Simon from Estate Planning For Dummies.
Probate is a term that is used in several different ways. Probate can refer to the act of presenting a will to a court officer for filing — such as, to “probate” a will. But in a more general sense, probate refers to the method by which your estate is administered and processed through the legal system after you die.
The probate process helps you transfer your estate in an orderly and supervised manner. Your estate must be dispersed in a certain manner (your debts and taxes paid before your beneficiaries receive their inheritance, for example). Think of the probate process as the “script” that guides the orderly transfer of your estate according to the rules. (For more info, see What’s a Probate Estate All About?)
Many people think that probate applies to you only if you have a will. Wrong! Your estate will be probated whether or not you have a will.
With a valid will: If you have a valid will, then your will determines how your estate is transferred during probate and to whom.
Without a valid will: If you don’t have a will, or if you die partially intestate, where only part of your estate is covered by a valid will, the laws where you live specify who gets what parts of your estate.
Go to the link to read the entire article. But be sure to hire a qualified probate attorney before you try to actually begin the probate process. Even if a formal legal proceeding is not needed, many fine the advice and assistance of a probate attorney is invaluable in administering a decedent’s estate.