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Probate Definition: A Basic Guide

Image of person on laptop researching probate definition.

Looking for a probate definition? You’ve come to the right place.

Probate is the legal process of settling a deceased person’s estate. It includes managing their debts and distributing any remaining assets to their heirs. Understanding what probate is, how it works, and who can be involved. But taking time to learn the probate definition can help prepare you for making decisions about your own estate and financial planning.

Probate Definition:

Probate is a legal process in which the debts of a deceased person are settled, their assets are distributed to their heirs or beneficiaries, and any remaining property is disposed of in accordance with the laws of the particular jurisdiction.

This process is overseen by a court-appointed executor or personal representative. That person handles carrying out the deceased person’s wishes as outlined in their will. Or if there was no will, the personal representative follows applicable state law.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “probate” originally meant “to prove.” The idea was that this was the court where you would go to “prove” that a deceased person’s Last Will and Testament was valid.

The Role of the Executor in Probate.

The executor (also known as personal representative) is appointed by a court. Their role is to administer the deceased person’s estate. If there was a will, the executor needs to follow the instructions in it. If there was no will, or if any other issues come up, state law determines what the executor is supposed to do.

It is their job to identify and locate assets and pay debts and taxes. Then they distribute any remaining property or funds to the designated heirs or beneficiaries. The executor is also responsible for filing all necessary paperwork. For example, they can obtaining a death certificate and petition for probate when necessary.

Probate With a Will.

When a person with a will passes away, the first question is whether a probate is necessary. Sometimes no probate is needed because the value of the assets is under a certain amount set forth by the state. The executor named in the will is responsible for carrying out the wishes of the deceased. That person distributes property and funds to the designated heirs or beneficiaries. In some cases, however, it may be necessary to seek probate court approval before certain assets can be disbursed.

Probate Without a Will.

If the deceased person did not have a will, the first question is to determine if a probate court proceeding is necessary. If the value of the assets is less than an amount set by each state’s statute, a probate may not be necessary. (Contact a probate lawyer if you have a question about whether a probate is needed.)

If probate is required, the process is more complex than if there had been a will in place. It requires appointing an administrative representative —usually the closest living relative—who is charged with the responsibility of distributing assets to their rightful heirs. Probate without a will can often take significantly longer and cost more than when there is a valid will established.

Understanding Rights of Beneficiaries During Probate.

During the probate process, the appointed administrative representative is in charge of ensuring all assets are distributed to their rightful beneficiaries. The beneficiaries, or people named in a valid will as inheriting property, have a right to receive their part of the estate once the probate has been approved. While this can be a lengthy process, all recipients must be acknowledged and paid within a reasonable timeframe from when the proceedings are completed. This ensures that all individuals involved in the probate receive what they are entitled to and that justice is served.

Want Help With Probate?

Our firm handles cases throughout Arizona. We have been focusing on probate and estate planning in Arizona since 2003. Just give us a call at 602-443-4888.

Need help in another state?

If you live outside Arizona, we have an extensive network of the best probate attorneys throughout the U.S. Just give us a call at 602-443-4888 and we’ll refer you to someone who can help.



Founding attorney Paul Deloughery has been an attorney since 1998, became a Certified Family Wealth Advisor. He is also the founder of Sudden Wealth Protection Law.