It’s always unfortunate when someone passes away. It’s even more unfortunate when those left behind aren’t quite sure what comes next. No, not “next” as in an afterlife. “Next” as in probate vs will.
What’s the difference between probate and a will? What are the family members of the deceased supposed to do? Let’s explore the difference between a will and probate.
What is a Will?
You’re probably already pretty familiar with wills. If you haven’t made one or benefited from one, you’ve probably seen someone reading a will on television.
A will, sometimes called a “last will and testament,” is a document that states the last wishes of a person. In a will, beneficiaries are named. For example, Pete could become the heir to his grandmother’s stamp collection. Grandma’s dog could become beneficiary to the house.
A will isn’t all about money and possessions, either. In a will, parents may name guardians for their children. And grandma could relay her wishes that Pete keep her canary.
A will can contain some intricacies as well. For example, maybe grandma had a few thousand dollars in student loan debt. She could designate that that debt be paid with a specific account.
Most wills are notarized, though no state in the United States requires this. A will can be as something as simple as a few sentences on notebook paper, so long as you’ve signed it along with two witnesses. However, it’s easier on the surviving family members if a will is notarized, or in some cases filed in court.
What is Probate?
Alright, so will vs probate – what’s the difference? The short definition of “probate” is “the proving of a will.” Many times, people think that probate is only necessary for those who die without a will.
That’s not true. Whether or not probate is necessary depends upon the assets of the deceased, on the state in which he resided and on how he wants those assets to be distributed. It’s tricky, and most people choose to hire an attorney to help navigate.
Probate estates are all the assets a person owns before he dies which are subject to probate. Those can include assets solely in the name of the deceased, assets owed to the deceased (think last paycheck, not “bet with Tommy”), and sometimes life insurance and other resources.
In short, probate is the process through which the assets of someone who has died are distributed, regardless of whether a will was filed. An executor is appointed, assets are collected, bills are paid and property is distributed. Then, a final account is filed.
Probate vs Will
Probate and wills are related, but they’re two different things. A will is the final account of how a person wishes his assets to be distributed. Probate is the process by which this happens.
Not everyone has a will, and when a last will and testament is not filed, probate generally takes much longer. Most attorneys recommend that you file a will, no matter how valuable your assets. Doing so will allow your family to focus on celebrating your life without being burdened by politics and paperwork.