If someone you know has recently died, or if you have a loved one in the golden years of life, then probate processes are likely in your future. This is especially true if your loved one has asked you to be the executor of his or her will, which means you will have some specific estate administrate duties.

One of the first steps in being prepared for probate is understanding what happens during the probate process. First, know that probate can occur in two general ways. First, an uncontested probate goes through all the steps, including collection of information, filings with the court and distribution of assets, without any contest or argument. A second general way probate can occur is when an heir or a potential heir contests the will or other estate documents. A contested probate involves court hearings and legal proceedings and typically takes much longer than an uncontested proceeding.

During the probate process, someone – usually the executor – collects information about the property of the person who has passed away. This includes real property such as a home as well as checking accounts, investments, personal belongings and life insurance. The executor must pay debts and taxes out of the assets of the estate before moving forward with disbursement of property.

Depending on the situation and whether a will is in place, research might have to be done to identify potential heirs to the estate. Once all heirs are identified, the estate can be divided according to estate documents and the law.

It sounds straightforward, but probate can become complex if there is a contest or if wills and other estate documents are not in good order. Working with an estate lawyer can help you face probate better prepared.

Source: FindLaw, “The Probate Basics,” accessed April 15, 2016