Probate is a legal proceeding in which a deceased person’s property is distributed to his or her heirs. As part of the process a personal representative is appointed to follow through with disposing of any assets owned by the deceased person. Probate can be either informal, meaning there is an original will available and there are not challenges to that will, or it can be formal. Although probates can definitely be complex, even in handling an informal, uncontested probate, it is still a smart idea to hire a lawyer.
Probate starts by filing a petition with the court. The petition is filed on behalf of the person nominated to be appointed personal representative in the deceased persons will. If nobody is named, or there is no will, or everybody named is unable or not qualified to serve, the personal representative is chosen pursuant to statute. The court will then determine the validity of the will and issue letters. The personal representative must notify all the people taking under the will and must also notify all the creditors (this is discussed in more detail below). After the letters are issued and the notices are given, the personal representative must collect all the assets, prepare an inventory, pay any claims and make distributions. After this is complete the personal representative can file paperwork with the court to close the estate.