Process of a Will in Probate

By Laura Wallace Henderson

Your last will and testament allows you to designate the division of your assets, including items such as real estate, personal belongings, cash and stocks. If you die with assets in your name, your will goes through a formal process known as probate. The probate process and costs may vary depending on the state you reside in at the time of your death, your assets, debts and whether anyone contests your will.

Filing the Will

The person you name as the executor of your will, or your personal representative, is responsible for filing the necessary paperwork, including your death certificate and your will, and paying the required fees to start this procedure. The executor may need to provide the court with names and addresses of the beneficiaries listed in your will, as well as those that could inherit your assets if you died without a will.


The court will officially appoint the individual you named as the executor of your estate to manage your assets during the probate proceedings. The court provides your executor with letters of testamentary, often referred to as letters of administration, as official permission to carry out the affairs necessary to the closing of your estate. Your executor may need to post a bond to fulfill the duties. Your estate will cover the cost of your executor’s fees to carry out the necessary requirements.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan

Financial Actions

Your executor gathers information on all your assets and files an inventory of your belongings with the court. This inventory becomes part of the public record of your estate proceedings. The letters of testamentary allow your executor to open a separate bank account in the name of your estate and transfer existing assets into this new account to pay off any outstanding debts. Individuals and businesses may file liens against your estate to help them collect any amounts you owed at the time of your death. Your executor’s financial responsibilities may also include selling off real estate and liquidating certain assets, as well as paying any state and federal taxes.


After your executor pays all your expenses, debts and taxes, the court may formally permit your executor to distribute your assets to your heirs, according to the directives outlined in your will. The time it takes to reach this point in the probate process can vary greatly, depending on your estate. Once your executor finalizes the estate disbursements, he provides a final accounting to the court and formally requests the closure of your estate.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan
What Is the Responsibility of the Executor of a Will?


Related articles

Legal Process of Benefactors in a Will

When you create a will, you leave directions for your loved ones to follow when distributing your estate. Your benefactors, or beneficiaries, however, don’t receive their inheritances automatically when you pass away. Instead, your estate must go through your state’s probate processes before it can be distributed. Though specific procedures vary among the states, the basic process remains the same in most areas.

How to Handle a Deceased Father's Estate

If your father died leaving property to heirs, you must initiate the probate process with the local probate court. This is true whether or not he left a valid will. If you have been appointed executor of his estate, you must also perform certain administrative duties throughout the probate process. Among other duties, you will be responsible for distributing property according to your father's will, if he left one. In the absence of a valid will, his property will be distributed in accordance with state intestate law. The probate process can take years if the estate is complex or if the will is disputed.

Why Do You Probate a Will?

Making out a will doesn’t eliminate the need for court proceedings after your death. A legal process known as probate provides a formal means of supervision for the dissolution of your estate. This process ensures the payment of debts and the correct distribution of assets. An executor has the right to hire an attorney at the expense of the estate to assist with the probate proceedings.

LegalZoom. Legal help is here. Start Here. Wills. Trusts. Attorney help.

Related articles

How to Settle an Estate After a Death Without a Lawyer

When it's time, a probate court will handle your estate. State law and court rules govern the process, so they can vary ...

Why Is Probate Necessary if There Is a Will?

State laws regulate the probate of estates. Probate is the judicial process that provides legal supervision of estates ...

How to Make Your Own Will Forms

A will is a document that tells a probate court how to distribute the assets of the person who wrote the will -- known ...

When to Notify the Executor of a Will

Called a personal representative in some states, the executor named in a will assumes responsibility for administering ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED