What Is Probate? 6 Things You Need To Know

A legal process, probate is something that many Americans encounter at some point in their lives, either as an executor of a loved one’s estate or as a beneficiary of an inheritance. Despite its importance, probate is often misunderstood, and many people are unaware of its complexities. In fact, it’s estimated Americans spend up to $2 billion annually on expenses associated with probates, highlighting the significance of this legal process.

If you’re unfamiliar with probate or unsure of how it works, don’t worry – you’re not alone. In this article, we’ll outline essential things you need to know about probate, from what it is to how to navigate the process successfully. Understanding the basics of probate can help you prepare for what lies ahead and ensure that you’re making informed decisions along the way. So, let’s dive in and explore the world of probate together.

1. Definition of Probate and Its Purpose

Probate is the legal process of dealing with a deceased person’s estate. This process aims to ensure that the person’s assets are distributed fairly and efficiently according to their will or state law if they do not have a will.

The probate meaning refers to the court-supervised process of verifying and distributing a person’s assets after they die to prevent fraud, disputes, or other issues that may arise during the distribution of assets.

2. When Is Probate Required?

Probate is required in certain circumstances. Such as:

  • If the late person owned assets in their name alone, then those assets would have to go through probate. 
  • If the late person’s assets exceed $166,250, then probate is required in California. 
  • When a person dies without a will, their estate will have to go through probate.
  • If some of the late person’s heirs are minors, then probate is required. The court will appoint a guardian to manage the minor’s share of the assets until they reach the age of majority.
  • If someone contests the will’s validity, probate may be required to resolve the dispute.
  • If the late person owned real estate, then probate is required to transfer ownership of the property to their heirs.
  • If the late person had debt, their estate would be put through probate to pay off those debts.

3. How Does Probate Work?

The probate process can be lengthy and complex, and the executor is entitled to compensation for their services. It’s advisable to consult an attorney familiar with your state law to ensure the process is handled correctly and efficiently.

  • The first step in the probate process is to file a petition with the probate court. This petition is filed by the executor named in the will or by a family member or court-appointed executor if there’s no will. 
  • The next step is to give notice to the deceased’s beneficiaries, heirs, and creditors. The executor must publish a notice in a local newspaper to notify creditors of the probate proceeding. Beneficiaries and heirs must be notified of the proceeding by mail or personal delivery. 
  • The executor must then prepare an inventory of the deceased’s assets and submit it to the court. The inventory should include all probate assets, their value, and the location of each asset. The executor must also file an accounting with the court detailing all income, expenses, and distributions from the estate.
  • After all claims have been paid, the executor can distribute the remaining assets to the beneficiaries or heirs according to the will’s provisions or the state’s intestacy laws. The executor must file a petition with the court to close the probate estate after all assets have been distributed.

4. How Long Does Probate Take?

The probate process in a state like California typically takes anywhere from 9 to 18 months from the date the probate is filed with the court. It’s worth noting that this timeline is just an estimate, and it’s possible for the process to take longer or shorter depending on the specific circumstances of the case.

The length of time it takes depends on various factors, including the complexity of the estate, the number of beneficiaries, and whether or not there are any disputes or challenges to the will. If the estate is particularly large or complicated, or if there are any disputes among the beneficiaries, it could take longer to complete the probate process. 

5. How Much Does Probate Cost?

The cost of probate can be quite high, especially for larger estates. Here are some of the costs you can expect to encounter during probate in California:

  • Attorney fees: In California, attorneys typically charge a fee based on the estate’s value. The fee is set by state law and is calculated as follows: 4% of the first $100,000 of the estate, 3% of the next $100,000, 2% of the next $800,000, 1% of the next $9 million, and so on. 
  • Probate bond: A probate bond is a type of insurance that protects the estate from losses due to the negligence or malfeasance of the executor. The cost of the bond is also based on the estate’s value.
  • Court fees: There are various court fees associated with probate in California, including filing fees, petition fees, and hearing fees. These fees can add up quickly and range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars depending on the complexity of the estate.
  • Creditor notice fees: There are fees associated with notifying the creditor, including publication fees for notices in local newspapers.

6. Can Probate Be Avoided?

Yes, probate can be avoided through various estate planning strategies. One common method is to create a revocable living trust, which allows the trust creator to transfer their assets to the trust during their lifetime and then pass those assets to their beneficiaries after their death without going through probate. Other options include joint ownership, naming beneficiaries on accounts, and gifting assets during one’s lifetime. 


Probate involves the validation of the late person’s will, the identification and inventory of their assets, the payment of their debts and taxes, and the distribution of their remaining property to their heirs or beneficiaries.

While probate can be a lengthy and expensive process, understanding the above key things about probate can help simplify the process and ensure that your loved ones are taken care of after your passing. By working with an experienced estate planning attorney and taking steps to plan your estate, you can help streamline the probate process and protect your legacy.

Interesting Related Article: “The Top Reasons To Avoid Probate Court