Probate is the process of settling an estate when someone dies. The administrator or executor of the estate takes care of all the responsibilities that end with distributing the proceeds of the estate to the heirs of the deceased.

If you have a will, then it is also part of the probate process. Although it does not avoid probate, it does provide you with control over the management of your estate as it goes through probate.

The executor

You have the option to choose the person you want to settle your estate. If you do not choose an executor or personal representative, then the court will choose someone to fulfill these responsibilities. By designating someone ahead of time, you can make sure he or she knows where your will, account information and other important documents are in order to make the duties easier when the time comes and to ensure that there is no confusion about your wishes.

The process

After you die, your executor submits the will to the judge for validation, and then begins the process of paying the debts and taxes. Once all of these matters have been settled, the executor distributes the balance of the assets remaining to your beneficiaries in the way that you have described. Then, the executor closes the estate.

Alternatives

Although a will is an effective estate planning document for many people, you may not want your assets to go through the time-consuming and public probate process.

If you do not want your assets to go through probate, you can take steps now to avoid it. For example, you may set up payable on death accounts that allow you to name the person who will become the owner of the account when you die. You may also set up one or more trusts, fund them with assets, name a trustee and designate beneficiaries. There are many estate planning tools that provide alternatives.