People in California who are considering creating an estate plan or who have recently lost a family member may have heard the word “probate” and wondered what it means. This is a process that involves validating the will, if there is one, and taking care of the person’s estate, which could include distributing assets and paying taxes.

If there is a will, when it is validated by the court, the executor can begin the process of dealing with the estate. If there is no will, the court will appoint someone as representative to act in a similar manner. The first step is generally to locate all the assets and have them appraised. It is also necessary to locate any creditors and pay them from the estate. Taxes must also be filed and paid. Finally, assets are distributed to heirs as described in the will. If there is no will, the state determines how they are distributed.

Probate can be costly and time-consuming, and the expenses come out of the estate’s value. Not every estate has to go through probate, and some assets are not passed using a will; property that is passed by beneficiary designation, that is payable on death or that is in a trust does not. Joint survivorship rights also allow property to pass directly to the beneficiary.

A person who has lost a loved one and who has been appointed as executor may want to hire an attorney to assist with paperwork and other elements of the probate process. An attorney may also assist if there is no will. In both cases, there could be family disputes over what happens to the person’s property although estate litigation might be more likely without a will to indicate the person’s wishes.