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What Is Probate and How Does It Work?

At least once in their lifetime, most people will have to deal with probate cases. Probate is the process in which the court legally recognizes a person’s death. Additionally, the court will oversee the full payment of all debts as well as the distribution of all property and other assets that the deceased person had. Facilitating the process to protect the interests of the estate’s beneficiaries and creditors is the court’s primary role.

Here is a detailed explanation of what probate cases are and everything else you need to know about them:

1. Probate Solves Inheritance
Probate is the process of solving who’ll inherit the shares, money, real estate, and the other possessions of the deceased. However, the person(s) eligible for inheritance will inherit the assets after paying off the deceased person’s unpaid taxes and debts that were left behind.

If the deceased left a will before passing away, the will has the name of the beneficiary, or the person intended to inherit the estate. The executor is the person responsible for keeping the estate safe and carrying out the terms of the will. Understandably, every probate case is initiated so the executor can finalize the entire process and the beneficiaries can inherit whatever the deceased has left behind.

what is probate in law

2. The Importance of Probate

Most families don’t need to go through probate to deal with and distribute the assets of their deceased loved one. The probate process is typically initiated in certain situations, such as the following:

The deceased has sizable properties or assets. In some states like California and Oklahoma, for example, probate is mandatory when the assets exceed a specified amount.
When the will is being contested
To start the legal transfer of titles to the beneficiaries
When the deceased didn’t leave behind a will

The will authorizes the executor to deal with the property left behind by the deceased. If there is no will, the probate court will appoint one. The probate will end when all the inheritance has been passed on, and all debts and taxes fully paid. Consult your attorney if you have questions or concerns about the process.

3. Probate Process Explained

Hiring an experienced attorney to help you with the law involving probate or estate planning is of the utmost importance. Only experienced lawyers will know how to deal with any unforeseen events that might occur during the probate process. The process itself may differ from case to case depending on the state you’re in, the size of the estate involved, and the specific terms of the will.

The process can become more complicated in case of a dispute between beneficiaries, creditors, and the executor. These are some basic steps on what the executor needs to do so the process could begin:

Gather all documents containing all the details of debts and the estate’s assets;
Obtain permission to pass out the inheritance and administer the estate (applying for probate);
Make sure to pay any taxes that are due, and complete an inheritance tax return;
Make sure to repay all deceased’s debts fully;
Distribute the remaining estate following the instructions in the will.

4. How Long Does It Take?

The probate process can last up to 12 months for the majority of cases. The time needed to finalize the probate case depends on the complexity and size of the estate. In case there is a dispute between the executor, creditors, beneficiaries, and tax authorities, the whole process might be prolonged.

5. What If There’s No Will?

There’s a bit different process involved when the deceased did not leave a will behind or if the will doesn't specify how to distribute the assets and to whom. In cases like these, a court-appointed executor will distribute the inheritance by following the laws on intestate succession. The people that can inherit the assets under these rules are only children, spouses, and close relatives.

last will and testament

6. Challenging The Will

It’s possible to contest or challenge a will if you believe the will doesn’t represent the deceased’s wishes accurately or if you believe the will is invalid for whatever reason. Contesting a will is allowed if you believe that it was forged or if the deceased was writing the will in the state of reduced mental health.


In case your family member or close relative passed away, and if you are eligible for inheritance, it’s crucial to hire a probate lawyer to help you go through the probate process. A lawyer will help protect your rights and interests and ensure that the distribution is done according to your loved one’s wishes.