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What Is the Function of a Will in Probate?

Some may ask why the probate process or system is even necessary in instances where there is a will. Or, in essence, why can't the plain meaning and provisions of a will govern, and those provisions be carried out, just as indicated in the will? Notwithstanding the fact that there may be a will in place, it is usually still necessary to undergo probate.

Admittedly, in some situations, such as when the estate is smaller, it may be that a less formal procedure is required. Still, the process remains under the supervision and purview of the probate court, even in instances of smaller estates. The probate process is required in order for the decedent's property to be considered legally transferred and distributed. Even in testate situations when a decedent dies with a will, a court must have the chance to allow interested parties to lodge objections to the will, and then, if there are such objections filed, to make a determination as to whether the will is valid.

The Probate Process

Probate is that legal process that handles the administration of estates and the testamentary documents, or wills, left by decedents. In fact, the primary function of the probate process and system is to execute the provisions and directives of a decedent's will. Thus, the will is a controlling document in the probate process.

The probate process also distributes remaining estate assets and resolves any conflicts created by the will or competing claimants of real or personal property of the estate. The process likewise concerns the distribution of a decedent's assets as the bequests and gifts are set forth in a will. The probate system ensures that estate property, assets, and personal belongings are transferred to the appropriate party as beneficiary. That process alone can require several years (or more), depending on the estate's size. The probate process for larger estates involving more assets and beneficiaries, and likely also contested claims, can be more expensive, as well.

The probate process is often triggered when estate property or assets were not specifically bequeathed or gifted to a particular party or beneficiary, such as the decedent's spouse. Then, in the absence of a governing or controlling provision in the will for a particular gift, other interested parties and potential claimants attempt to come forward to make competing claims for a portion of the estate's assets. The probate process then involves time and money to ferret out such claims and to determine which beneficiary's claim will be meritorious.