Probate is the process that transfers legal title of property from the estate of the person who has died (the “decedent”) to their proper beneficiaries.
The term “probate” refers to a “proving” of the existence of a valid Will, or determining and “proving” who one’s legal heirs are if there is no Will. Since the deceased can’t take it with them, probate is the process used to determine who gets their property.
Property left through a will usually must spend several months or a year tied up in probate court before it can be distributed to the people who inherit it. Probate is not cheap or quick. Because probate requires a hearing in over-burdened courts, the process can tie up property for a year or more. In addition, probate may be expensive. Estate attorneys, who sometimes charge a flat percentage or a high hourly rate, usually handle probate. Their fees and court costs may cost 5% of the estate’s value. A will is a very personal document, and may reveal private family and financial issues and concerns. But once it is entered into the court record, it becomes public, and can be inspected by anyone.