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What is Probate?

When a person dies, the probate court and the estate’s executor or Personal Representative distributes the estate property according to the terms of a valid will. Or, if no valid will exists the estate is distributed under the jurisdiction’s intestacy laws. The probate process begins when a death certificate is filed with the probate court where the deceased resided. The length of the probate process varies by jurisdiction.

At the first hearing, the court will appoint an executor or personal representative. If there is a valid will the court will generally appoint the person designated in the will as the executor. The executor will then give notice to the decedent’s heirs and creditors that the probate process has begun. Each jurisdiction requires a waiting period to give creditors time to file a claim against the estate.

Next, the executor will inventory the decedent’s property and collect any debts owed to the estate. With the decedent’s property, the executor will pay the decedent’s debts, file a final tax return, and pay any final taxes for the estate. When all of the decedent’s accounts are settled and the jurisdiction’s waiting period expires, the executor will distribute the remainder of the estate per the decedent’s wishes.