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A Simple Guide to the Probate Process


Gavel laying on Probate documents

Probate is the legal process that recognizes a decedent’s will. It appoints an executor or personal representative to distribute the assets to the appointed beneficiaries per the will. So how does this process work? At a high level, there are several steps involved. Note these are simplified for the purposes of this article.


Probate Process Step 1: File the Petition

The first step in the process is to file a petition with the probate court. This is to do one of two things:

  • Admit the bill to probate and the executor, or

  • Appoint an administrator of the estate (if there is no will)

While not always necessary, it’s usually required that information on the hearing be sent to the decedent’s beneficiaries and heirs. That way if one of them objects to the petition, they can do so in court. 

It’s also common to list the petition in a local publication in case there are unknown creditors of the decedent who should know about the petition. This gives them the chance to submit a claim if they are owed a debt by the decedent.  


Probate Process Step 2: Court Notification

The second step is where the personal representative gives written notice to creditors of the estate. They will also take inventory of all property of the estate.  The inventory includes assets including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Real estate 

  • Vehicles (cars, boats, motorcycles, etc.)

  • Stocks

  • Bonds

  • Mutual funds

  • Business interests

Sometimes an independent appraiser may be brought in to help determine the value of non-cash assets. This is especially important if potentially valuable items are part of the estate, but it’s not easy to determine their value. A few examples are rare coins, paintings, sculptures or pottery. 


Probate Process Step 3: Pay Expenses

The third step in this process is to the creditors involved. This usually includes the following:

  • Estate taxes

  • Funeral expenses

  • Debts owed

  • Other taxes

The personal representative determines which creditor claims are legitimate. They are to pay these bills from the estate, even if that means selling assets to get the cash necessary to pay these debts. 


Probate Process Step 4: Give the Property to Beneficiaries

The last step after the waiting period for other creditors to make claims against the estate, is to give the estate to the beneficiaries according to the will. The personal representative will petition the courts for permission to transfer the remaining assets to the beneficiaries of the will. For example in the case of physical property, a legal title will be given to the designee. If there is no will, the assets will be transferred according to the state’s laws. 

Do you have any other questions around the probate process? While we tried to summarize it in this article, there is a bit more to it. For more personalized advice regarding how the probate process relates to you, please reach out at 714-663-8000. Keep in mind we also offer related services such as will preparation and estate planning. Another popular request is the setup of trusts, which is one of our specialties. 



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