What is Probate?

Probate is the court procedure to control assets of a person after death, pay bills and taxes, and distribute the rest to heirs after payment of costs.

If someone dies without will or a trust, he or she is said to have died “intestate”. When this happens, a probate proceeding is required to handle their assets and other affairs. Having a trust set up while living can avoid this.

The Executor is the person of your choice to handle your affairs that have to go to court. (Failure to name someone means the court appoints an Administrator who could be someone you do not want.) The court gets involved in all your assets that are not in your trust or titled for proper handling.

When someone dies, there are many legal matters that need to be handled. Simply put, relatives must be notified, the decedent’s assets must be collected, and debts and taxes must be paid, all long before heirs and beneficiaries receive the estate assets.

The court oversees this process. It can be expensive, can take a very long time and is a “public” process. The word “probate” comes from the Latin word meaning “prove”. This refers to the need to prove that a Will is valid and who is entitled to receive a deceased person’s assets. This is handled through a probate court proceeding.

Probate court files are available to public viewing. If the estate is probated after a person dies then anyone can go to the courthouse and see what assets the decedent owned, what debts he or she had and how much his or her heirs received. Most people prefer to keep such matters private.


Probate is only worthwhile if other arrangements cannot be made. It is expensive, time consuming and not necessary for those whose affairs are properly in order.