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Probate: what to know about the process

While probate is not needed in all cases, it is often used when someone passes away and assets have to be transferred to their heirs. This can be fairly fast or it can be a lengthy process, depending on the complexity of the estate and on how much direction was provided.

Think of probate as an administrative process. Your parent or other relative had both assets and debts. These debts need to be paid and assets need to be transferred, but there are many legal steps required to make this transfer properly. Probate is the process of ensuring that this is done, and the court can help guide this process to make sure things work correctly and to help with any disputes.

Steps that may be taken during probate

To help further show what happens during probate, here are a few of the steps that may be taken:

  • Authenticating the will
  • Locating the assets
  • Determining the value of those assets
  • Paying final bills
  • Paying taxes
  • Distributing what is left to the heirs and beneficiaries


Not all beneficiaries are heirs. If a will lists a non-family member, they can then become part of this probate process, as well.

Do all assets pass through probate?

Many assets pass through probate, but not all. For instance, the deceased may have given gifts to their heirs before passing away. They may have put money and other assets in trusts, making the transfer of those assets well in advance. Or, they may have bought a life insurance policy that pays out directly to the named beneficiary, meaning the money does not enter the deceased person’s estate at all and so does not have to go through probate before they get it.

Can an attorney help?

An attorney may be able to help with probate in many ways. Remember that assets and debts are often complex, and you want to avoid mistakes with so much money on the line. Additionally, if there are challenges and disputes, it can take time and expertise to sort them out properly. Even when the process goes smoothly, an attorney can answer any questions that you may have.