Before an estate can be distributed to heirs, the will must first pass through probate. This is the process of proving a will is authentic and free of undue influence. It also ensures creditors still owed money are paid, with the remainder of the estate passing to heirs as stipulated by the will. This guide explains what family can expect when a will passes through the probate court. 

While state laws vary quite a bit, most wills will pass through probate. Additionally, when a person dies without a will, their estate will also pass through probate. In this case, the court will determine how assets are dispersed to heirs. This illustrates the importance of creating an estate plan before you die. If you die without a will, you’ll have no control in the decisions made after you’re gone. 

The first step of probate entails authenticating the will. This shows that the will was created by the deceased and not created under duress and as a result of coercion. It also shows that the provisions in the will are legally binding. If the will is considered valid by the court, the probate process can move on to the next step. 

At this point, the executor, who is your representative for carrying out the terms of the will, will seek out any creditors or others your estate owes money to. Once notice is sent to creditors, they’ll have a certain amount of time to respond and make requests for payment. Only after creditors are paid, and after your executor provides a complete accounting to the court showing how money from the estate is used, can your heirs be paid according to your wishes.