What is Probate? Why do I need to know about it?

What is Probate

Once a good friend asked me, “What is Probate? Is it a part of your body that develops cancer? “No, that’s your prostate”, and the “probate process” is not about the spread of a kind of cancer either.  As funny as the question may seem, I get many similar blank looks when I tell someone at a party that one of the specialties of our law firm is the practice of probate law.

Simply put, “Probate” is the legal process that occurs upon the death of an individual who has bank accounts, a residence, a business or other assets and owes certain debts at the time of his or her death.  The collection of assets owned by an individual immediately upon his death is known as his or her “Estate”.  “Probate” is the legal process whereby a “legal representative” of a person’s estate is appointed by the court, and a legal investigation is made as to whether the individual who died left behind a valid “Will”.

A “Will” is a writing signed by the deceased individual which expresses his desires as to the following legal questions:

  1. Who is the legal representative of my estate?
  2. Will my body be buried or cremated?
  3. Who are the individuals that will receive my assets after all my legal debts are paid?
  4. Who will be the legal guardian of my children who are less than 18yrs of age at the time of my death? and
  5. Who will see that my legal debts are paid and/or defend my estate from creditor claims where the law provides a defense to such claim?

Clearly, these are key questions that every responsible individual must ask.  Unfortunately, the fear of death by many individuals causes them to postpone the process of seeking legal assistance in preparing a will, until it’s too late.  However, even if an individual dies without leaving a Will, the probate laws in each state provide a legal process known as “Administration” in which the key questions set forth above are decided by a probate judge.  Unfortunately, the process of an “Administration proceeding” is frequently more expensive and can involve many more disputes among the legal “heirs” of a deceased individual.  By having a valid will prepared by a qualified attorney, an individual or a couple can provide their own answers to the above key questions.  Got a will?  If not, get one.  If you have a will that is over three years old, have it reviewed by a qualified lawyer!  McKenzie Law Associates, we not only prepare wills, but we also handle the probate process when a loved one dies.

At McKenzie Law Associates, we have been helping individuals and couples with Estate Planning, Will Preparation, and Probate for over twenty-nine years.  Put our experience to work.  You owe it to your spouse, your children, and your loved ones.

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