Probate is the word that describes the legal process by which an estate is administered through the courts. Often, people talk about avoiding probate because it is seen as expensive or stressful during a time when families are already dealing with grief. Probate is not always completely avoidable, but you can make the entire process easier through solid estate planning and a strong understanding of what is involved.
Every probate situation is different, and different states have different rules governing the process, so working with someone experienced with the process of estate administration is helpful to keep issues minimal. Probate processes can start with concerns such as whether a will is valid. They might also address the question of whether a will even exists at all.
Once documents are established -- or even if they aren't -- the probate court may establish representatives for the estate, including trustees or executors. To better ensure your wishes are carried out during probate proceedings, you will likely want to make provisions in estate documents for appointing these representatives.
Probate courts also work to identify all the assets that might be relevant to the estate, as well as all debts and other liabilities associated with the estate. Through the probate process, heirs and estate representatives will take action, including paying debts and taxes, identifying all people who have any interest in the estate process. Once all possible heirs are identified, probate processes involve distributing assets among heirs as dictated by either estate documents or the law.
The manner in which estate documents are set up helps drive how some probate processes work. Understanding how much impact you can have in the probate process is a first step to managing that process to the best benefit of your heirs and your legacy.
Source: FindLaw, "What is Probate Court?," accessed Oct. 06, 2015