"Probate" is the legal process of transferring of property upon a person's death. The process contains the following elements: Individuals formalize their intentions as to the transfer of their property at the time of their death (typically in a will), their property is collected, certain debts are paid from the estate, and the property is distributed.
The probate process may be contested or uncontested. Most contested issues generally arise in the probate process because a disgruntled heir is seeking a larger share of the decedent's property than that he or she actually received. The majority of probated estates, however, are uncontested.
Usually, the decedent names a person (executor) to take over the management of his or her affairs upon death. If the decedent fails to name an executor, the court will appoint a personal representative, or administrator, to settle the estate. The administrator will fulfill many of the same duties listed above.
A will is a formal way of setting forth your wishes regarding how you would like your property distributed upon your death. For more information about wills and estate planning, visit our Estate Planning page.