Whether or not you have a validly executed Will, your estate will go through Probate to the extent that you die owning assets in your name. "Probate" is the legal process through which a deceased person's affairs are formally settled. First, an attorney must be retained to open up an estate w/ the court. A person is then appointed to administer the estate, who is often called a Personal Representative or Executor. The Personal Representative works with the attorney and is responsible for overseeing the entire process, beginning with locating a validly executed will. The Personal Representative must then identify and gather all the deceased person's assets, file an inventory with the court and notify the deceased's creditors of the pending estate. It's a lot of work. Next, assets are then pooled together and used to satisfy creditors' claims. Finally, the balance of assets are ultimately distributed to the proper beneficiaries, who - as you now know from the crash course on wills - are determined by the will or may be decided for you by the state in which you reside. Generally, all real and personal property must pass through Probate if owned in your name. Property not owed in your name, property owned in some jointly owned forms, property that passes by operation of law, property held in trust, as well as properly structured life insurance and retirement benefits all may pass outside of Probate. Property that passes by operation of law are some joint accounts, life insurance and retirement benefits. It's important to avoid probate with careful estate planning.
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