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What are the basics of probate?

Many people know that estate planning involves crafting a set of priorities for assets and determining who will become the guardian of minor children. But, there are certain terms involved in the estate planning process that some people may be unfamiliar with, like "probate." So, what is probate and what is the role of a probate court in estate administration?

Depending on the components of their estate plans, most estates will go through the probate process. Probate is the process whereby a person's assets will be distributed to designated heirs and beneficiaries and debts will be paid from the estate. Probate courts are specifically designed to oversee these matters.

In most cases, the process of going through probate can be relatively smooth. The executor of the estate will marshal the deceased person's assets, make sure that everything is accounted for, pay the applicable taxes and debts and then distribute the remaining assets to the people or charities that were designated in the deceased person's will. After that, the probate process can be closed.

However, in some cases, a probate court will need to hear challenges to the estate when those challenges arise. For instance, someone who believed they were going to be a beneficiary but was surprisingly left out could bring a challenge of undue influence or assert that the deceased person lacked the capacity to formulate a valid estate plan prior to death. In many cases, the people who are encountering the probate courts for the first time find it useful to speak with an attorney regarding the process.

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