Whether you are preparing for the death of a loved one or getting ready to start your own estate planning, you might have heard the word “probate” mentioned a few times. Most likely, it was said with negative connotations. However, it is important for you and other Californians to realize that the probate process is a normal part of estate law, and it isn’t necessarily something to be afraid of.

As the Judicial Council of California explains, the probate process is the legal step involved in transferring assets from the decedent to the beneficiaries named in the will. The most important parts of this process involve determining whether the will is valid and identifying the executor of the will. If the will is legal and easy to understand and nobody is contesting the terms of the will, the probate process should be relatively straightforward.

Probate sometimes gets a bad rap because it’s often mentioned in cases involving a probate dispute. If, for example, your parents cut your youngest brother out of the will after a disagreement, he might decide to contest the will. After your grandfather’s death, your cousin might believe his much younger new wife manipulated him into writing the other family members out of his will. You or another relative might have cause to believe that your widowed mother changed her will while in the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease, rendering the document invalid.

In cases like those mentioned above, the probate process becomes more complicated. However, this legal tool exists to protect the interests of those involved. This information should not replace the advice of a lawyer.