What is Probate? Definition and examples

Probate is a legal term. It is the process in which a last will and testament (will) is reviewed to determine whether it is authentic and/or valid. Probate includes the administering the affairs of a dead individual without a will, as well as the general administering of people’s wills after they have died. If somebody dies without a will, we say they are intestate.

The term refers to the whole process of administering a deceased individual’s estate. Estate, in this context, refers to all of a person’s possessions when they die. If the person who has died has left a will, it will name its executor, i.e., somebody to administer their estate.

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Probate involves organizing a dead person’s possessions, assets, and money, and distributing them after paying taxes and debts as inheritance. The term also includes paying off outstanding bills and debts, such as mortgages.

Investopedia.com says the following regarding the term:

“Probate is the term for a legal process in which a will is reviewed to determine whether it is valid and authentic. Probate also refers to the general administering of a deceased person’s will or the estate of a deceased person without a will.”

Simple definition

Put simply, probate has two meanings:

  • Obtaining permission to carry out the wishes contained within a deceased person’s will.
  • The process of settling their estate.

Granting of probate

The first step in administering a deceased person’s estate is the granting of probate. Claims are resolved and the property is distributed according to their will.

A grant of probate is a legal document establishing that the person is dead, who their personal representative will be, whether a will exists, and if so, whether it is the deceased’s last valid will.

According to nidirect.gov.uk:

“Following a death, you may need to get a Grant of Probate or if the deceased didn’t leave a Will, a Grant of Letters of Administration. This official document allows you to deal with a deceased person’s estate. You can apply for a grant directly or by using a solicitor.”

The will’s executor uses the grant of probate to show that they have the authority to sort out finances and access funds. It also shows that they have the legal authority to share out the testator’s assets as set out in their will. A testator is somebody who has made or is making a will.

Etymology of probate

Etymology is the study of the origin of words and how their meanings evolved over time.

The term probate emerged in the English language in the fourteenth century with the meaning “official proving of a will.” It came from the Latin word Probatum, which meant “a thing proved.”

In the 1560s, the English word To Prove emerged. It developed from the English word Probate. The Latin word Probare meant “to make good, esteem, represent as good, make credible, inspect, judge by trial.”

What is a will?

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A will is a document in which a person states where all their possessions and money should go after they die, i.e., who should inherit them. The terms will, last will and testament, and testament have the same meaning.

When writing your last will and testament, you need to take great care. Most jurisdictions stipulate that testators must follow certain steps to properly execute their document. In fact, if they don’t, it is easier for people to challenge it or make it invalid.