Probate Law



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What is Probate?

Probate is the legal process of administering the estate of a deceased person, resolving all claims against the estate, and distributing the deceased person's property. If a person dies with a will, these are sometimes called testamentary probate proceedings. If they died without a will, the person is said to have died intestate.

Testamentary Probate

Generally, when one leaves a will behind there is little to take through probate. It is often simply a matter of appointing an executor (sometimes called a personal representative) to administer the estate and see to it that the assets and obligations of the estate are handled according to the directions set forth in the will. However, in some instances, potential heirs or other creditors may challenge the contents of the will, asserting that they are entitled to more than what has been left for them. Under these circumstances, a probate court decides whose claims are valid or not and makes the appropriate adjustments to the final distribution of assets under the probated will. Much as in bankruptcy, potential creditors must be notified of the probate proceeding, but if they fail to make timely claims, or their claims are or lesser priority to those of other beneficiaries or creditors, their claims are extinguished.

Intestate Proceedings

When one dies without leaving a will, the probate court is sometimes called upon to distribute the deceased person's assets according to state laws. Again, these proceedings are often handled much like bankruptcy cases, with priorities being established and untimely and inferior claims being extinguished by court order. Generally, after satisfying certain creditors, spouses are entitled to the largest share of a decedent's estate, followed by children, then other close family members.

Uniform Probate Code

In the United States, in order to deal with the often conflicting and contradictory state probate laws, a Uniform Probate Code was suggested. Many states have opted to adopt it, or large portions of it, making the probate process much more uniform between different jurisdictions. However, a few states have not yet adopted its provisions, making it critical to determine which laws may affect the probating of an estate, particularly if there are assets located in multiple states, such as homes.

More Information

For more information about probate, visit the resources listed below. Additionally, should you need more information or legal assistance with a probate related issue, you can find an attorney in your area by visiting our Law Firms page.

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State Probate Statutes

Probate Law - US


  • ABA - Probate Process

    Probate is the court-supervised legal procedure that determines the validity of your will. It affects some, but not all aspects of your estate. Non-probate assets, like a life insurance policy, are paid directly to the beneficiary. Upon your death, your will is filed with the probate court and its validity determined. All property, debts, and claims of the estate are inventoried and appraised. All valid claims of the estate are collected, and the remainder is distributed to beneficiaries according to the will.

  • American Indian Probate Reform Act

    The American Indian Probate Reform Act of 2004 (S. 1721) provides valuable tools to the Department of the Interior, Tribal governments, and individual Indians to facilitate the consolidation of Indian land ownership in order to restore economic viability to Indian assets. The Act amends the Indian Land Consolidation Act and amendments made in 2000.

  • Probate Courts Resource Guide

    Provides information on the operation of probate courts, as well as on their jurisdiction, administration, practices, and procedures.

  • Probate Law - Wikipedia

    Probate is the legal process of administering the estate of a deceased person by resolving all claims and distributing the deceased person's property under the valid will. A surrogate court decides the validity of a testator's will. A probate interprets the instructions of the deceased, decides the executor as the personal representative of the estate, and adjudicates the interests of heirs and other parties who may have claims against the estate.

  • Probate Process in the United States

    The probate process in the United States can be complicated and hard to understand, especially because it varies by county and state. For example, while each state’s probate code will describe their basic probate law, the cases themselves are administered by the county courts and county processes may differ in fees and procedure. Overall, the best way to find out about the probate process in your location is to call your county or state courthouse or contact an attorney.

  • Uniform Probate Code

    The Uniform Probate Code (commonly abbreviated UPC) is a uniform act drafted by National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL) governing inheritance and the decedents' estates in the United States. The primary purposes of the act were to streamline the probate process and to standardize and modernize the various state laws governing wills, trusts, and intestacy.

  • Uniform Probate Code - Overview

    UPC 1991 essentially repeats UPC 1969's articles on probate procedures (Articles III and IV). These procedures were designed in the 1960s to meet the public demand for quicker and less expensive settlements of decedents' estates. The UPC procedural reforms work very well in the enacting states and have served to reduce delays and public distrust of lawyers and probate courts. This portion of the UPC 1991 enables uncontested estates in probate to be processed with greater safety and as efficiently as estates that are controlled by probate-avoiding living trusts.

Organizations Related to Probate Law

  • National College of Probate Judges

    The major purposes of the College: To promote efficient, fair and just judicial administration in the probate courts and To provide opportunities for continuing judicial education for probate judges and related personnel. These twin purposes are accomplished through a number of national and regional programs and projects, including conferences, publications and other materials.

Publications Related to Probate Law

  • National Association to Stop Guardian Abuse

    NASGA was founded in 2006 by several victims. NASGA is now made up of dedicated individuals who have experienced the horrors of guardianship or conservatorship. As former victims or family members of victims, our mission is to end unlawful and abusive guardianship or conservatorship practices.

  • Probate Law Journal

    The Quinnipiac Probate Law Journal is published quarterly by the Quinnipiac University School of Law in cooperation with the National College of Probate Judges and Connecticut Probate Assembly. The Quinnipiac Probate Law Journal is a practitioner's guide and a source of information regarding probate law to the legal community.

  • United States Probate Records

    Probate records are court records created after an individual's death that relate to a court's decisions regarding the distribution of the estate to the heirs or creditors and the care of dependents. This process took place whether there was a will (testate) or not (intestate). Various types of records are created throughout the probate process.

Articles on HG.org Related to Probate Law

  • Cut Out of the Will, What Can I Do?
    Losing someone you were close to is always difficult. But, it can be all the worse when you find that the lost loved one may have cut you out of their will, either intentionally, accidentally, or as a result of someone exerting undue influence over the person before their death. So what can you do it you get cut out of a will?
  • Top 5 Things to Consider Adding to an Estate Plan
    For most, estate planning is not an enjoyable experience. For many it is a recognition of their own mortality. For others, it is simply an exercise in annoyance and frustration as one tries to navigate the complicated twists and turns of tax laws, healthcare regulations, trust laws, etc. To make things simpler, the following is a list of the top 5 things you should consider adding to your estate plan.
  • Families Behind Revlon and Hudson Media Fight Bitter Legal Battle Over Enormous Inheritance
    Samantha Perelman is a 23-year-old student at Columbia University, working on a masters of business administration and as a summer production assistant on the set of the HBO show “Girls.” Impressive credentials, to be sure, but more impressive is the legal battle in which she finds herself: she is fighting with her uncle for a share in an estimated $700 million inheritance.
  • What Happens to Property if There is No Will?
    If you have lost a loved one, there are many things on your mind, not the least of which may be what to do with the belongings that have been left behind. Sadly, family can become very attached to different items that may bear a sentimental value to them, or feel entitled to a portion of the estate's value. These problems can be greatly magnified in situations where there is no will.
  • Why Is It Important to Have a Will?
    It is important that each person have a will that directs their family members and loved ones on how they want their final wishes to be carried out (i.e., burial, cremation, etc.), as well as how they want their estate to be divided after their death.
  • Estate Planning Wills & Trust Probate It Is Written
    Ever since the age of the Babylonian Empire when the first substantial collection of laws were written on tablets of stone, the declaration “It Is Written” has been used to indicate that what was is indeed written is not to be questioned or contested, and is therefore the final word regarding the matter. All directives, instructions, authority, and laws are based upon written documents.
  • Estate Planning for the Modern Family
    In a time when the traditional nuclear family has shifted to a more complex structure with multiple marriages, step-children, half-children, common law marriages and cohabitation, and same-sex couples, keeping an estate plan up to date with life's constant changes can be a challenge.
  • Who Can Start a Private Foundation?
    When you are evaluating your financial position as you plan your estate you may well find that you have the means to set aside resources for the benefit of charitable organizations.
  • A Look at Postmortem Planning
    Executing estate planning documents that express your wishes in writing is indeed important when you are making preparations for the inevitable. However, this is only part of the process.
  • Probate: Smooth Sailing in The Garden State ?
    In the state of New Jersey the probate process has been streamlined to facilitate a smooth and efficient transfer of assets to the heirs of people who pass away.
  • All Estate Planning Law Articles

    Articles written by attorneys and experts worldwide discussing legal aspects related to Estate Planning including: estate and trust, inheritance law, personal property, probate, wills.