The word "probate" can invoke fear and dread in many people. Probate can be a lengthy, contentious and expensive process. No one wants to deal with drama, the disposition of an estate that takes years to resolve, or an astronomical bill from a probate attorney. However, in most cases, the probate process doesn't take very long. There are only a few circumstances in which the probate process becomes complicated, such as when a will is contested, the estate has continuous income or the estate is very large and owes income taxes. There are typically four steps in the probate process.

Appointment and Notice

The first step is for the probate court to appoint an executor for the estate, if one is not already specified in the decedent's will. The heirs and beneficiaries of the estate must also be provided with written notice of the probate process. 


Next, the executor must take a detailed inventory of all assets and liabilities belonging to the estate. The estate's creditors must also be notified, so they can assert a claim in a timely manner. Creditors may make claims on the estate's assets to cover any outstanding debt.

Payment of Expenses

The executor must then use the estate's assets to pay all expenses. These expenses include funeral expenses, debts and any taxes owed by the estate. The executor determines which creditors have valid claims to assets. Tangible assets may be sold by the executor if needed to cover expenses and pay obligations.

Transfer of Property

Finally, the final transfer of property to the heirs and beneficiaries takes place. After all debts and taxes are satisfied, whatever is left is divided according to the stipulations in the decedent's will, or by the laws in the state where the individual resided at the time of death. 

No matter your age or level of health, it is important to always have a valid and current will on file. Keep a copy in your personal files, as well as a copy with your attorney or other trusted advisor. You should also ensure that your will is properly prepared and notarized. While it is entirely possible to prepare your own will, you should retain the services of a qualified family law attorney to handle this task. This will ensure your will complies with probate law and protects your loved ones and your assets. Taking these steps now will ensure an easier probate process for your loved ones after your passing. 

To learn more, contact a law firm like Wilson Deege Despotovich Riemenschneider & Rittgers