What Is Probate?

Probate is the legal process of administering a person’s estate after their death. If you have a last will and testament, probate will involve proving that your will is legally valid, executing your instructions and paying applicable taxes.

Having a clearly written will is one way to make the probate process easier on your loved ones. After all, your will doesn’t only specify who should inherit what. It also designates who you’d like to take care of your kids if both parents were to pass away, plus the executor who should fulfill the instructions in your will.

Terms to Know

Legal proceedings often involve terminology that can be overwhelming when you’re already dealing with a lot. A few useful probate terms to know:

  • Decedent: The deceased person whose estate is going through probate.
  • Executor or personal representative: The person in charge of carrying out the instructions in the will.
  • Administrator: A court-appointed executor, if someone dies without leaving a will.
  • Intestate: A case where someone dies without a will.
  • Intestacy: State laws determining how to distribute such estates.
  • Letters testamentary: A document from a probate court authorizing the executor to start carrying out the will.
  • Notice of probate and notice to creditors: Notices that the executor has to submit, in writing, to the heirs (“interested parties”) and creditors.
  • Small estate affidavit, summary probate and/or summary administration: Documents or processes that can allow you to skip or shorten certain aspects of probate (i.e. distribute property without a lengthy court process). Estates below a certain value (depending on your state) are eligible for this.

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