The term probate can be used in a few different ways.  One way to think of probate is as the act of presenting a will to court officers for filing; often this is stated as to probate a will.  The other popular way to think of probate is as the method that an estate is overseen and routed through the courts after your passing.

The basic premise of probate it to transfer the estate that has been left behind in a fashion that is systematic and managed.  The estate must go through an exact procedure when being dispersed.  Before your inheritance can be divided amongst beneficiaries the administrator must see that all debts and taxes are paid on behalf of your estate.  Probate should be seen as a working guideline to transfer the estate on your behalf in accordance to your directions.

Probate applies to the death of any individual with an estate of any size, with or without a will in place.  If a will is in place upon your passing then it will lay down the ground rules for how and to whom your remaining estate is transferred.  Without a will in place the court will point an administrator to determine who in fact will receive the remains of your estate.

The process of probate is pretty basic when broken down.  There are two main steps involved: paying back debts that are owed on your behalf and transferring assets to the appropriate beneficiaries.

A probate court will oversee the process of probate.  Probate courts are state courts not federal and therefore the process may vary a bit from state to state but basically follow these basic four steps.

1)      A personal representative is assigned or appointed and sworn in.

2)      Heirs, creditors and the public are notified of your passing.

3)      The estate is inventoried.

4)      Estate is distributed including the payment of all outstanding debts.

The process is fairly simple.  Complications can arise but in most cases probate is a pretty straightforward procedure.

In probate it is important to understand that there is a difference between probate property and non-probate property.  In general assets that you alone own are probate assets while those owned jointly with others are often considered non-probate assets.  Non-probate assets will automatically pass on to the joint owner upon your death.  Another example of a non-probate asset is one that passes on to a named beneficiary automatically such as life insurance.

The Law Office of Sean J. Nichols is dedicated to assisting clients throughout legal issues that come with aging including: elder law, estate planning, probate law and more.  Check out the Law Office of Sean J. Nichols at to contact an estate attorney today.