What is Probate?

Probate gets a bad rap for legitimate reasons yet it is a necessary component of the legal system. When most people hear the word “probate”, they frown, wince or feel depressed.  However, most people are not exactly sure as to what probate really means. Let’s take a look at what probate is really all about.

An Explanation of Probate

Niswanger Law in Monroe, La answers the common question: What is Probate?; black and white image of woman's hand resting on gravestone at cemetery

Probate is best defined as the legal process that occurs after an individual passes away. The purpose of probate is to determine the fair and just distribution of the decedent’s property.  However, people typically do everything they can to avoid probate as it provides a court with the power to determine how assets are distributed. Probate court judges have the potential to distribute assets in a manner that the decedent would not have approved of. Furthermore, the decisions made during probate also have the potential to anger the decedent’s loved ones.  However, distributing assets is not the sole purpose of probate. Probate also ensures all debts and taxes are paid in full. 

What if There is a Will?

If the decedent has a will, the probate court still has a role to play. If a will exists, the probate court analyzes it to determine if it has been signed, has been witnessed in the proper manner and is completely valid. The court then ensures the directions within the will are properly carried out.  However, the court does not do the entirety of this work on its own. The probate judge also plays a role in ensuring the proper party, be it a personal representative or executor, takes control. If no will is in place, this individual plays an important role in controlling the manner in which the decedent’s assets are distributed.

Why Probate Court is Necessary

Probate court is necessary regardless of whether the decedent has a will or lacks a will. In short, probate supervises the manner in which assets are distributed and also supervises the titles to  the individuals named as beneficiaries within the will. The process proves that much easier if a will is in place as the probate court judge merely has to validate this legal document, proving the will is genuine and subsequently authorizing the executor to perform the responsibilities as detailed in the document. If this is the case, the probate court judge merely has to communicate with the executor to ensure the responsibilities are carried out.

However, the probate process proves quite important if an individual passes away without a will.  If this is the case, the probate court judge has plenty of work to do. The judge essentially performs the work that should have been accomplished with a will. The probate judge appoints the personal representative, assists in valuing the estate, pinpointing beneficiaries/creditors and determining the fairest way to distribute property.

Probate Isn’t Necessarily a bad Thing

Contrary to popular opinion, probate is an important component of the legal system. Probate should be viewed as a process to guide family members through a challenging period of time, eliminate confusion and set the stage for a civil and fair distribution of the decedent’s assets. However, proper estate planning makes it that much easier to bypass the vast majority of probate, ensuring the decedent’s desires in the context of asset distribution are fulfilled through a will.

Niswanger Law is at Your Service

If you would like to learn more about the probate process and/or need assistance with estate planning, our Monroe LA law firm is a call away.  Reach out to us today to schedule an initial consultation. You can reach Niswanger law by phone at 318.953.0071 or by filling out our convenient online contact form.