Probate is the formal court-supervised process provided by statute to handle a person's estate after their death. During probate, the individual's assets will be identified and collected, their creditors will be paid, and the remainder of their estate will be distributed. If the deceased (the decedent) has left a will, a person named in the document, termed the "executor," is appointed by the court to oversee the probate. Should the decedent die intestate (without a will), the court will appoint an "administrator" to conduct the daily affairs of the estate. Usually the administrator is a family member or an interested party to the proceeding, such as a creditor.
A hearing is scheduled, giving notice to interested parties such as heirs and/or creditors. After the hearing, an overseer is appointed and letters of administration are issued by the court. The letters are recognized by financial and legal institutions as providing a basis for cooperation with the proceeding, such as transferring a bank account or settling a debt.
The persons or entities identified in the will are the beneficiaries. If the person dies intestate, the heirs will be determined by a chart of familial relationships. If no heirs can be determined, the estate will be claimed by the state. Choosing one's executor and beneficiaries is therefore the primary benefit of a will.
During probate, the overseer may invoke the court's intervention to assist with permission to take action or to resolve disagreements with or between beneficiaries or heirs. The appointed individual will be paid according to a statutory scheme as will the attorney who handles the matter. The probate referee is responsible for appraising or assisting with property or creditors. The statutory fee is considered inclusive of all services rendered unless extraordinary services require additional fees. Costs, such as court filing fees, are not contained in the final orders and are due as incurred.
At such time as all property has been addressed, debts and taxes paid, the attorney representing the estate will file a formal petition to close the probate. The court will usually require an accounting of all assets, gains and losses, income and payments from the estate.