Probate Law

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.


Know Your Rights!

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 Related to Probate Law

  • Who Inherits an Estate When There Is No Will?
    If a person does not have a will, state law determines who stands to inherit his or her property. These laws are referred to laws as intestate succession. Every state has a series of laws in place to deal with this often common situation. Individuals who do not like the way that the state distributes their property can use the information as a cautionary tale and as an incentive to speak to an experienced estate planning lawyer to create a will.
  • Estate Planning Strategies for Grandchildren’s Needs
    Many individuals want to provide an inheritance to grandchildren. There may be a variety of situations in which grandchildren’s situations are considered in order to provide an effective estate plan. There are many strategies to provide for grandchildren, depending on the circumstances.
  • What Is the Process of Contesting a Living Trust?
    A living trust (also called an “inter vivos” or “revocable” trust) is a document that allows a person to place his or her assets into a trust during life so that those assets can be distributed to designated beneficiaries by a chosen representative upon death.
  • Differences between Guardianships and Conservatorships
    Loved ones who are concerned about a loved one may decide to seek a formal appointment as the individual’s guardian or conservator. Which designation the person seeks will depend on the state where it is granted, the purpose of the appointment and factors specific to the person’s particular situation.
  • Prenuptial Plan’s Effect on Estate Plans
    Prenuptial agreements can impact the effect of an estate plan. This is why it is important to understand the potential implications of a prenuptial agreement before entering into as well as what plans can be made in an estate plan after it has been entered into.
  • Do I Have to Leave Assets to My Spouse in My Will?
    Marriage creates certain legal duties and responsibilities between parties that would not otherwise exist without the benefit of marriage. One such right includes the right to inherit from a deceased spouse. Some spouses may specifically write out their spouse in their will. However, this may not be an effective way to disinherit a spouse. What the surviving spouse is entitled to depends on state law, where the property is located and whether any valid agreements exist between the parties.
  • Function of Community Property Trusts
    A community property trust can protect the interests of a married couple. This in turn allows the spouses to retain a larger value of estates in the family. It is important to understand the legal identification of property and how community property trusts function so that you can protect your legal and financial interests.
  • Blended Families Need Estate Planning Too
    Today’s family structure is much different than it was many years ago. A large number of families are now blended with married spouses and children from previous relationships. Blended families have more complex wealth planning considerations than others. This often requires special care and advance planning.
  • How Stretch IRAs are Used as an Estate Planning Tool
    Estate planning is essential for those with assets that the owner wants to leave behind or to extend into his or her later years, and some of these tools involve multiple items. The stretch IRA is a retirement planning tool that may be used best in estate planning for someone that is planning to ensure he or she lives well after entering retirement age.
  • Paying Attention to Details in Your Estate Plan and Importance of an Estate Planning Lawyer
    The estate plan is crucial to ensure either retirement is comfortable, or that heirs are taken care of after the estate owner has passed on, and the details are essential to providing for these eventualities. The estate planning lawyer is the main point of contact for documentation and implementation of the plan and keeping the steps followed after the person is no longer alive.
  • 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.

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