Probate is a legal proceeding by which a will is determined ("proved") whether or not to truly be the intention of a deceased person (the testator). It is also involved if a person died intestate (without a will, or if a will is proven invalid).
Upon the death of the person, either the executor of the estate (the person specifically named to handle the estate's affairs) or a potential heir petitions the probate court to determine the will's validity. Depending on the size and shape of the estate, and potential challenges to the will, the probate hearing could conclude in minutes or take years.
Once the hearing is concluded the property is given to the heirs either under the terms of the will, or as the court may otherwise direct if the will is proven invalid in whole or in part.
- The probate court may be a separate court handling only these or related affairs, such as guardianships or involuntary confinement to mental hospitals, or part of another court's normal jurisdiction. Probate matters are handled at the state level.