What is probate and why do I want to avoid it?

Senior Couple

Probate is a legal process of identifying and collecting everything a deceased person owned, identifying and paying valid debts, and distributing the property and money to the persons entitled to receive it.

Why is that such a big deal?  Why are people always trying to avoid probate? The devil is in the details.


Probate is a public process, so people who value privacy don’t want the world to see the value of their estate or the names and addresses of their heirs, for example.  They don’t want real estate speculators sending letters to their grieving family offering to buy the family house.  Those who value privacy don’t want people gossiping about the provisions of their will.

Probate often costs more than a non-probate estate administration.  There are many rules and laws that an executor must follow in probate.  For example, every heir and every beneficiary under the will (sometimes they are different) is entitled to be notified in writing at different stages of the probate proceeding.  I’ve had estates with fifteen heirs across the country. The postage costs alone were $400.

On top of that, what if you have an heir who doesn’t get anything under your will?  Is it really a good idea to rub his nose in it?

Then there is all the attorney time to prepare those notices and all the other papers the probate judge wants to see, and attorney time for a minimum of two court appearances.

This is part of what makes probate a big deal.  Is it better for you to avoid the whole thing?  Well, like everything in the law, it depends.  In our next article, we will discuss the other side — reasons why probate might be the right choice for your family.