Probate is the Court supervised process by which the Executor of the deceased’s estate gathers the assets of the deceased, uses those assets to pay the debts of the deceased, and then makes distribution to the appropriate beneficiaries.
The probate process is started by filing a Petition for Probate with the Court to have the Executor (now known as a Personal Representative) appointed. It is concluded by the filing of an Accounting listing all of the assets, income, and expenses of the estate. After the Accounting is approved by the Court, distribution is made to the beneficiaries.
Probate is necessary with or without a Will. However, there is no probate of jointly owned property, which passes by operation of law to a surviving joint owner. Nor is there probate of property which passes to a named beneficiary (such as in life insurance, IRA, TSP, 401(k), pensions, etc.). Probate can also be avoided by having your assets placed into a properly drafted Living Trust before you die.