For most, probate is an inevitability. Only those with little to no assets can avoid having their estate go through this legal process. Probate ensures that the contents of an estate are distributed fairly to any beneficiaries, but just as importantly, it ensures that any debts of the estate are paid. Probate is not the dreaded affair that some make it out to be, and you may agree after reading the simple outline of probate tasks below.

Get the probate process started. The first act of probate begins with the filing of the will with your local county probate court. Wills can often be found in locked desk drawers, fire boxes, bank safe deposit boxes and safes. If it cannot be located in a reasonable amount of time, a copy of it will be available at the law office where it was drafted. Before filing, the will is read to all pertinent parties and an executor, or personal representative is appointed. If no executor is mentioned in the will, the probate court will appoint one. It should be noted that if the estate has enough value, it will need to be probated whether there is a will or not.

The estate is inventoried and valued. The probate court will need to know the dollar amount of things like the house and cars and any other valuable items. A real estate appraiser should be used to place a value on the home, which is often the most valuable part of any estate. Other specialists may be brought in if there is artwork or collectibles that appear to be worth valuating.

The estate is maintained during probate. The family home and other property must be kept up during the several months that probate is likely to take, and that means paying the bills of the estate and other tasks. The estate attorney will advise on which bills should be paid now, and which should wait until the probate process is through to be paid. The yard work should be done, any regular maintenance on the home carried out and some utilities should be left on. Even if no one is living in the home, you may need to keep some heat, cooling and water present to avoid more problems with burst pipes, mold and other disasters. Taxes must often be paid as soon as possible, since in most states probate cannot be complete without it. Money to pay the bills, taxes and other costs must come from the estate, such as bank accounts. Assets may be sold to pay any costs not covered by cash available.

The beneficiaries receive their inheritance. Probate will end with a final decree detailing the value of the estate, how much was spent during probate on the estate and the disposition of any debts. Once in receipt of this letter, any named beneficiaries may now take ownership of their items. To learn more about the probate process, speak to an attorney.