When someone dies, there is a legal process for distributing assets and paying off debts. This process is probate.

For the executor and potential heirs, understanding what occurs during probate may help speed up and simplify the process.

Probate process when there is a will

According to the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government, the first step in the probate process is to present and file the will with the probate court, and the probate process occurs in the county in which the decedent lived. Oftentimes, the executor files the will, but anyone in possession of it can file it with the court.

The next step is to give notice to the heirs. An heir is a close living relative, which is different than a beneficiary, who is someone named in the will to receive property or assets.

According to FindLaw, the judge determines the validity of the will and appoints an executor if there is not one currently. If no one contests the will, the executor may proceed with paying debts, locating beneficiaries and distributing assets.

Process when there is not a will

Not everyone who dies has a will. When this occurs, the family may choose to go through probate, and the judge distributes assets among the heirs. Without a will, it is possible to avoid probate. This happens when the heirs agree on how to divide the estate, and they all sign the petition. This ability to skip probate is not an option if the heirs cannot come to an agreement or if there are outstanding debts and the creditors do not all agree on the terms of the petition.