What Families Should Know About Probate

Probate is a complicated court process that frustrates many people.


  1. Probate is a complicated court process that frustrates many people. Essentially, it is the process of validating a will and transferring property to new owners. Anyone who dies without a will has their real estate, valuable assets, and cash divided according to the guidelines set by the court. Depending on the level of complexity with the estate, probate can be lengthy and expensive. For some people, including older adults with complicated assets and those who are ill, planning ways to avoid probate may be cost-effective for their heirs. Many probate attorneys are able to help clients find ways to reduce or eliminate the expense of a long court process after they die.

    For those who do not take steps to keep their estate out of court, an attorney might help the family by serving as the estate administrator. While this role can be assigned to a trusted family member in a will, it is sometimes more complex than the average person can handle. After a person dies, a complete accounting of what they own as well as what they owe must be submitted to the court. Family members and other heirs must understand that all debts must be paid before money or property can be transferred to them. When the will orders that cash be given to heirs in lieu of property, some of their belongings may need to be sold to satisfy the will.

    When planning for probate, some people choose to set up a living trust. This type of estate planning tool allows someone to transfer their property without involvement from the court. It is generally less expensive and enables properties to get into the hands of the intended recipients a lot faster. A lawyer who focuses on estate planning may help a client decide which tools are best for them.

    Seniors who only have a minimal number of assets may be able to avoid most of the court process by using the state's streamlined procedure. This process makes it easier on families who may need the assets left behind to cover final expenses and cannot afford to wait up to a year for the court to close the probate case. Families in this position may be interested to know that many assets, such as retirement accounts, life insurance policies, and balances held in bank accounts can be passed seamlessly to the beneficiary listed on file with the attorney.