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Losing a loved one is a sad and difficult time for family, relatives, and friends. In addition, those left behind must often figure out how to transfer or inherit property from the person who has died.

To do this, you must usually go to court. And dealing with the courts and the property of someone who has died is very complicated. Sometimes, however, family or relatives may be able to transfer property from someone who has died without going to court. But it is not always easy to tell whether you need to go to court or qualify to use a different procedure.

This section will give you some general information to help you understand what your choices may be, but we still encourage you to talk to a lawyer to get specific answers about your situation. You can usually pay the lawyer’s fees from the property in the case.

What Is Probate?

Probate means that there is a court case that deals with:

• Transferring the property of someone who has died to the heirs or beneficiaries;
• Deciding if a will is valid; and
• Taking care of the financial responsibilities of the person who died.

In a probate case, an executor (if there is a will) or an administrator (if there is no will) is appointed by the court as personal representative to collect the assets, pay the debts and expenses, and then distribute the remainder of the estate to the beneficiaries (those who have the legal right to inherit), all under the supervision of the court. The entire case can take between 9 months to 1 ½ years, maybe even longer.

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