Probate is a court process in which your property is identified, inventoried, and distributed to your legal heirs after your death. If you have a will, it is a written instruction of what you wish to be done with your property. You have named an executor (usually a relative or trusted friend) who will carry out your wishes through the court-supervised process of probate. The probate begins when the will is submitted to the court along with a petition for probate.

A legal notice announcing the beginning of the probate process is published in a newspaper of general circulation, and the will itself becomes a public document. In addition, all the beneficiaries are located and sent a legal notice of the probate proceedings by mail.

The executor then begins to locate and identify all the property, which will be inventoried and, if necessary, appraised. Creditors are also notified of the death and advised that the assets will soon be distributed. Business and personal financial records may be made public during these proceedings. After the required waiting period has passed and all the beneficiaries have been informed, the assets of the estate are distributed to the creditors and beneficiaries. If necessary, an estate tax return may be filed and estate taxes are paid.