WHAT IS PROBATE?
Probate is the legal process for settling an estate after someone has died. It is also known as estate administration.
The main purpose of probate is to provide inheritors of a deceased person's property with clear title to the property.
During probate, the decedent's personal representative (also called the executor if the decedent left a will or the
administrator if the decedent did not have a will) locates the decedent's assets, pays his or her debts, and distributes
the remainder of the estate to the inheritors. If the decedent left a will, the inheritors are the beneficiaries named in
the will. If the decedent died without a will (intestate), the inheritors are the heirs specified by state law.
Probate isn't always required after a death. A deceased person's property can be divided into two categories: assets
that have to be probated (probate assets) and assets that don't (non-probate assets). No probate will be necessary if
the decedent owned only non-probate assets.
Probate assets are (1) property the decedent owned solely in his or her name, (2) property the decedent owned as a
tenant in common with one or more co-owners, and (3) personal property that does not have title documents. Sometimes
whether a personal effect is subject to probate depends on the fair market of the item as determined by state law.
Examples of probate assets include:
• Real estate titled solely in the decedent's name or titled in tenancy in common (not joint tenancy) regardless of
value. Coins, clothing, jewelry, furniture, appliances.
• Motor vehicles titled solely in the decedent's name including cars, boats, and RVs. Proceeds of life insurance on the
decedent's life payable to the decedent's estate. Brokerage or retirement accounts that designate the decedent's
estate as the beneficiary.
• Business interests like a partnership or LLC membership, or shares in a corporation held in the decedent's name
Non-probate assets generally fall into three categories:
• Assets that pass by right of survivorship.
• Assets that pass by beneficiary designation.
• Assets held in trust.