Probate is the first step when executing a will and working out how an estate is to be split among any number of parties. The term is off-putting to some, but it is a word that everyone is more familiar with in other forms. Probe, to feel out. Probation, a cautionary period. Probably, a tentative “maybe.” A whole set of words that can be understood to mean “to prepare.” And that is what happens in the realm of probate law. This is when all of the facts are gathered before any drastic steps are taken.
The distribution of an estate generally has four major parts. The first is probate. The second is the settling of accounts. The third is will reading. The fourth step is then the distribution of the estate to any inheritors. The reason that so many steps are needed is to, believe it or not, protect the inheritors.
During the probate step, the total of the estates assets are appraised and counted. The total of the estates outstanding debts is accounted for, as well. During this step it is also necessary to collect any type of life insurance.
Then accounts are settled. Some math is done to figure out which number is bigger than the other and that creates the estate. Once the estate is created one of two things happens. In the result of a positive amount left in the estate, an executor is appointed and a will is dealt with. If there is a negative balance remaining, then the executor has to handle who receives what debt, if the debt is inheritable (some debt is, like property taxes on a home or medical bills to surviving family; some debt is not, such as student loans, personal obligations, child support).
Will readings are important matters that help people to divide estates fairly, or by whim. When a will is not certified, or cannot be found, most of an estate will go to various governing bodies. Many people do not like to see this happen but from a certain legal standing, all of the accounting has to be done. Everything has to go somewhere. Rules are in place to prevent false parties from taking items and money from the estate.
Finally, the family and other inheritors are contacted as to how they can receive their inheritance and the estate is considered dealt with.
Probate law, as you can see, is an important part of the legal process of inheritance that prevents things from falling through the cracks. Without this process hidden debts and assets could cause undue harm on those already grieving or dealing with the loss of loved ones.