Probate is an administrative proceeding through which a deceased person’s estate is properly distributed to heirs and designated beneficiaries and any debt owed to creditors is paid off. If the decedent had a Will, probate property is distributed according to the terms of the decedent’s Will. If there is no Will, the decedent’s property will be distributed according to state law.

Probate is started when an interested person files a Petition for Probate before the Register of Wills in the county where the decedent was domiciled (resided). Probate is necessary to deal with the decedent’s solely owned assets because no one has the authority to deal with those assets unless they are granted authority by the Court. Authority is given to the Personal Representative through issuance of Letters of Administration (a Court Order), which is issued when the estate is opened.

Any assets of the decedent’s that were jointly owned or beneficiary-designated are not part of the probate estate. Instead, those assets pass directly to the joint owner or beneficiary.

Generally, probate takes 10 to 12 months, but may last longer. In probate, the decedent’s assets must be liquidated, and the proceeds placed in an estate account. Within 3 months of the Personal Representative’s appointment, an Inventory of all assets with date-of-death values is filed with the Register. An Information Report listing non-probate property must also be filed. Within 9 months of appointment, an accounting of all estate activity must be filed. Because the probate process is often complicated or complex, many individuals choose to hire an attorney to assist in the probate of the estate.