A detailed guide to the probate process


What happens to your assets after your demise? Contrary to popular perception, your beneficiaries will not receive their inheritance immediately after your passing. Instead, they will have to undergo a process called probate, even if there’s a will in existence. 

In simple terms, probate means a procedure in which the deceased’s legal heirs are determined after scrutiny, and the deceased’s assets are distributed among them properly. However, when there’s no will in existence, this process becomes more complex. 

Unfortunately, merely 33% of Americans today have estate-planning documents. So, learning about the probate process has become important for people. Read this detailed guide to learn about it now.

How does the probate process take place?

Before discussing how probate goes on, it’s interesting to note that Americans can avoid it by creating a Trust. While a will is subjected to probate, a Trust doesn’t need to undergo this procedure. It helps to prepare both a will and a Trust to help your beneficiaries quickly attain their inheritance. However, most people in the United States don’t even have a will prepared right now.

 Thus, the words below will help them know how probate works and what they can expect from this process.

Usually, you hire a lawyer to lead this process and prepare you for court proceedings. However, you can handle the process on your own as well. 

Consider pursuing DIY probate by state documents and get your inheritance as fast as possible. You have to present your petition, inventory the inheritance, and become the settler of the estate. Online portals will guide you through this process by providing all state-specific documents. 

But most probate processes in the United States involve the following simple steps:

Find the deceased’s will

Will or no will, the probate process shall happen, but in the absence of a valid will, the probate process becomes difficult and complex. 

A valid will, however, can help a court easily determine the identity of all legal heirs. Legally, executors must submit that will within thirty days after the testator’s death. A court will then examine the will carefully to verify its validity.

A will causing intestacy

Sometimes, even the presence of a will stirs controversy, thereby forcing the law to act accordingly. So, the will becomes unreliable and cannot dictate how the deceased’s assets should be distributed. It’s crucial to learn what sort of events lead to the contestation of a will and its eventual invalidity:

  • Someone may argue that the will was forged.
  • The only executor, as per will, can’t perform these duties.
  • The only beneficiary, as per will, can’t legally inherit anything.
  • The testator may have formed the will wrongly due to ignorance.
  • The will may have been created when the testator was mentally incapacitated.

Get the death certificate

Before filing a petition, legal heirs of the deceased must bring a death certificate. Aside from heirs, a person close to the deceased – the executor or the attorney, for instance – can also bring this piece of evidence to a court of law. That’s how the probate process can officially be initiated now.

Inform all financial organizations

It’s important to inform every relevant financial organization about the deceased’s passing. So, heirs will inform the banking institutions that were in business with the deceased and the federal or state government organizations that need to be notified. 

Moreover, communicate with the following:

  • Pension firms
  • Insurance companies
  • Credit card and loan providers
  • The deceased’s employer/s
  • Utility companies (e.g., gas, water, and electricity)

An overseer is appointed

A probate court shall appoint a person as the overseer to carry out the deceased’s wishes and divide the assets as instructed. Now, this overseer doesn’t always have to be some stranger, as some folks believe. 

For instance, a court may appoint the executor as the overseer. So, if you have been named as the executor of the will, it’s likely that you shall oversee the estate as per court orders. However, if the validity of that will is challenged, your chances of becoming the overseer may dwindle too.

The cost of probate

The deceased’s estate’s total value dictates how much it may cost to start probate. Inheritors often pay 3-7 percent of the estate’s worth if they hire lawyers to help them through this process. A person can easily pursue DIY probate – as explained above – to avoid paying attorneys. However, it’s still never free; you will pay the cost of a few hundred to a few thousand dollars to file a petition for opening your case. Heirs must pay 50-1,200 USD as filing fees alone to pursue this case in 2022.

Identify assets and debts

The overseer (or the executor, if you’re lucky) will inventory the deceased’s assets and identify their collective worth. 

Creating an inventory becomes easier when a will exists because the testator probably included that list with all other estate-planning documents. If the will doesn’t exist, an overseer shall assume this responsibility. Remember that the deceased’s digital assets also count. 

However, a deceased’s digital assets may need professionals for proper evaluation.

Pay all remaining debts

In the end, it’s crucial to pay all outstanding debts against the estate before the inheritance can be distributed among all legal heirs. These debts may include taxes, hospital bills, funeral charges, and other forms of payment; the legal heirs can claim their shares from the deceased’s inheritance.


We’ve established that even the presence of a will doesn’t nullify the necessity of probate. This process determines the deceased’s inheritors so they may receive their rightful inheritance. 

Heirs will obtain the deceased’s death certificate, find the deceased’s will, and wait for an overseer to be appointed. So, that overseer will inventory the deceased’s assets and determine the identity of all legal heirs. 

It can take just a few months to a full year for this process to be finished, and it may cost 3-7 percent of the estate’s value if you recruit a lawyer. However, some people choose DIY probate through online portals. 

After you’ve settled all debts against the estate, the remaining assets can be distributed among all rightful heirs.

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