Probing Probate: What You Should Know
Probate is a term that is used in several different ways. Probate can refer to the act of presenting a will to a court officer for filing — such as, to “probate” a will. But in a more general sense, probate refers to the method by which your estate is administered and processed through the legal system after you die.
The probate process helps you transfer your estate in an orderly and supervised manner. Your estate must be dispersed in a certain manner (your debts and taxes paid before your beneficiaries receive their inheritance, for example). Think of the probate process as the “script” that guides the orderly transfer of your estate according to the rules.
Many people think that probate applies to you only if you have a will. Wrong! Your estate will be probated whether or not you have a will.
- With a valid will: If you have a valid will, then your will determines how your estate is transferred during probate and to whom.
- Without a valid will: If you don’t have a will, or if you die partially intestate, where only part of your estate is covered by a valid will, the laws where you live specify who gets what parts of your estate.