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.If you cannot find a will, if a will is invalid, destroyed, or for any other reason that a valid will is not accepted by the court, the estate will proceed as if the deceased died without one. This is called intestate, and it invokes state law to fill in the gaps for you. If you have a will, it's called testate. In either case, your estate will go through probate.
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