Probate is a court-supervised process of settling an estate. The process includes determining the validity of a will, appointing an executor or administrator, and distributing estate assets to rightful heirs. The entire process takes approximately one year to complete. In some cases, it is possible for estate property to be distributed without going through probate. An example would be a joint bank account in the name of both spouses. If one of the spouses dies, the property flows immediately to the other spouse. Another example would be proceeds from a life insurance policy that names a beneficiary. Should the owner die, the assets go directly to the beneficiary.
It might also be possible to avoid probate when the amount of the estate is less than $150,000. If no real property, such as a house, is involved and 40 days have passed since the owner's death, personal property can be transferred by written affidavit. A simplified probate process is also available for surviving spouses who are entitled to property.