Probate Law Center

Probate administration is the process of managing and distributing an estate’s assets after death.

An executor leads the estate through the probate process and assumes certain responsibilities.

Probate litigation arises when an interested party disputes estate planning documents or a fiduciary’s actions.

Certain assets may be transferred to beneficiaries without probate proceedings, saving time and money.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • What is the probate process?
    Probate is the process by which a decedent’s estate is settled and its assets are distributed. During the probate process, the executor will pay the estate’s debts and taxes, resolve any litigation brought by beneficiaries, heirs, or creditors, and transfer estate assets to their new owners.
  • Do all estates need to be probated?
    No. If all estate property is transferable outside probate, opening a probate case is unnecessary. Additionally, many states offer small estate procedures, which simplify the probate process and may allow an estate to avoid formal probate altogether. States that follow the Uniform Probate Code (UPC) offer informal probate procedures consisting mostly of paperwork.
  • Must a will be filed with the court if the estate will not be probated?
    Yes. Most state laws require that anyone in possession of a will must file it with the probate court within a certain amount of time after death or discovery. Usually, the deadline is between 10 and 30 days.
  • Am I required to serve as an executor?
    No. An individual named as an executor in a will or considered for the role by a probate court may decline the job. If an executor wishes to resign after probate proceedings have begun, they must ask the court’s permission.
  • What if the decedent died without a will?
    If the decedent died without a will, their assets will be distributed according to the state’s rules of intestate succession. Generally, a decedent’s surviving spouse and children will inherit their property, followed by other relatives and eventually the state.
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Popular Topics
  • Becoming an Executor
    Executors manage and distribute the assets in an estate. They may be nominated in a will or appointed by a court. Executors have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of the estate.
  • Small Estates
    Estates of modest value or those with assets passing outside probate may qualify for small estate procedures. These procedures involve mostly paperwork and can save the estate time and money.
  • Will Contests
    A will contest is an objection to a will’s validity. Wills sometimes may be challenged for undue influence, lack of testamentary capacity, improper execution, mistake, or fraud.
  • Litigation Against the Executor
    If an interested party believes that an executor’s actions are harming an estate, they may bring suit. Issues include breaches of fiduciary duties, objections to accountings, or executor fee disputes.
  • Assets With Designated Beneficiaries
    Assets with designated beneficiaries transfer to their new owners without probate. These commonly include retirement accounts, life insurance policies, bank accounts, and securities such as stocks.
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