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What does Probate mean?

The term "probate" is associated with estate planning and describes the legal process by which a decedent’s will is processed by a special court. An executor of the estate is named to handle the decedent’s affairs and administer the estate throughout the probate process. Assets that are distributed under a will (or all assets in the absence of a will or other ownership forms) go through this process and are "subject to probate." Assets, distributions of which do not pass through a will, such as jointly owned property, life insurance (with properly selected beneficiaries), or those owned through a properly established revocable living trust, are not usually subject to probate.

Why is this important?

Probate court records are public documents, meaning that others can learn about your family’s finances by reviewing these public records. Probate usually requires the services of an attorney, which costs money. Depending on the complexity of the estate, probate costs can range up to 5% of the value of the estate. Probate can also take time, often six months or more. During this time, the distribution of assets to heirs may be delayed.