The term "probate" refers to court supervision of the administration of a last will and testament. Generally, every will passes through probate to become effective. The court determines whether the testator signed the will and whether he knew it was his will; then it oversees the gathering of assets, paying of estate debts and distribution of property. There are many sources for learning about the process that a will goes through during probate.
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Check the court system. Many courts offer online information to the public. In California, for example, both the state court system and various counties provide good information, including fillable forms for all required probate documents (see Resources).
Visit your local law library and ask for books or pamphlets explaining the probate process. Also take time to review the form books attorneys use for probate work. Each form contains instructions on when and how to use it. Find your state's probate code and skim through it; many modern statutes use simple, understandable language.
Talk to the court clerk in your county probate court. Ask for any general information on probating an estate and also for a probate packet containing copies of all probate forms with instructions. Request a probate calendar to see what matters the court is hearing that day. Most court hearings are open to the public. Select several different types of probate hearings and sit in to get a feel for what they involve. Include a will contest trial, if possible, to see probate at its most dramatic.
Tips & Warnings
Many probate lawyers maintain Internet sites about the probate process. While some contain good information, others mystify the process to encourage you to hire counsel.
References & Resources
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