What is Probate?

Probate Lawyer Phoenix, AZ

Historically, the term “Probate” meant the act of proving a Will’s validity. Now it has a much more general meaning, commonly referring to the process that is used to administer a deceased person’s estate, regardless if that person left behind a Will. The process involves distributing the deceased’s property to the people specified to inherit it in the Will, or to the heirs of the deceased as determined by state statute.

Before we dive too deep, it is a good idea to familiarize oneself with the common terms used in probate process:

  • Decedent: the person who passed away
  • Testate Estate: the decedent left behind a valid Will
  • Intestate Estate: the decedent did not leave behind a valid Will, or any Will at all
  • Personal Representative: also known as Executor, or Administrator, this person is appointed either in the valid Will, or by the court if there was no Will, to administer the decedent’s estate.
  • Devisee: person or entity specified in the Will to receive assets from the estate
  • Heir: person determined by statute to be entitled to receive assets from the estate. Each state has a different “intestate succession” laws, but usually the order is as follows: spouse à children à parents à parent’s descendants (siblings)à grandparentsà state

What Happens in Probate?

The process of initiating and executing a probate will vary from state to state, but generally the process follows these 6 steps:

  1. File a Petition: A petition is filed in the county where the deceased person lived or owned property. The petition will ask the court to officially acknowledge the Personal Representative and to approve the validity of the Will (if there was one).
  2. Give Notice to Interested Parties: Once approved by the court, the Personal Representative is required to provide Notice to all beneficiaries, heirs, and creditors of the deceased that the estate is in probate.
  3. Inventory the Assets: The Personal Representative will then inventory and appraise all the assets the deceased owned at the time of their death. Assets often include homes, cars, bank accounts, personal effects, etc.
  4. Pay Debts: Next, the Personal Representative will review and pay any outstanding debts the deceased had at the time of death. Taxes will also need to be filed.
  5. Distribute the Assets: Once all debts have been paid by the estate, the remaining assets will be distributed to the rightful beneficiaries/heirs.
  6. Close the Estate: The Personal Representative will submit a record of all payments and distributions made and ask the court to close the estate and relieve the Executor of their role. Only after the court’s approval can the process of probate be considered complete.

To learn more about the Probate process, or how to avoid it, contact a probate lawyer Phoenix, AZ relies on at the law offices of Kamper Estrada, LLP today.