Probate is a legal process in which the probate court settles the estate of a deceased person. The process of probating an estate involves gathering and accounting for the assets of the decedent, payment of debts, taxes, claims and costs of administration, including the distribution of the remainder to the beneficiaries.
Typically, assets that are subject to probate consist of real estate, financial assets and person property titled solely in the decedent’s name at death. These assets do not automatically pass to third party. A simple method to determine what assets a probate estate would include is to look at how each asset is titled and then exclude; all joint tenancy assets (real estate, bank account, etc), all assets with a beneficiary designation (life insurance, IRA accounts); any assets in trust. Any other assets must pass through Probate. Some assets held jointly must go through probate, for example your spouse pre-deceases you and you do not place another name on the title to the house. Your children now must probate this asset (along with any other assets titled solely in your name).
Probate generally involves paperwork and court appearances. Any fees and court costs are paid from the estate thereby reducing the sums distributable to the beneficiaries. Probate court can be a costly, time consuming process.