When a person dies, his or her estate must go through probate, which is a process overseen by a probate court and probate judge. If the decedent leaves a Will directing how his or her property should be distributed after death, the probate court must determine if it should be admitted to probate and given legal effect. If the decedent dies “intestate”, meaning without a Will, a court appoints a Personal Representative to distribute the decedent’s property according to the laws of the state.
In general, the probate process involves collecting the decedent’s assets, liquidating liabilities, paying necessary taxes, and distributing property to heirs. Probate procedures are governed by state law where the decedent lived at the time of their passing.
The probate of a Will means proving its genuineness in probate court. Unless otherwise provided by statute, a Will must be admitted to probate before a court will allow the distribution of a decedent’s property to the heirs. As a general rule, a Will has no legal effect until it is probated. A Will should be probated immediately upon the passing of the decedent.
The word probate comes directly from the Latin words “probo” and “probare” which mean to try, test, prove or examine.