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Probate essentials: Everything an executor needs to know

Probate involves locating your loved one’s assets and appraising them, paying off taxes and debts, and distributing the remainder of the estate to its beneficiaries. There are several steps to the process, all of which are dictated by state law.

When is full probate necessary?

Going through a full probate process can involve a lot of time, money, and emotional energy. The good news is that most estates do not need to go through this lengthy process, and instead can go through a shortened, informal probate or avoid it altogether.

First steps for an executor

You've been named the executor—now what? After finding and reading the will, you will next have to make sure it’s valid, share its contents with your family and any others named in the will, and finally file it with a special court called probate court.

Probate is often a long and complex process, but it is also completely manageable if you stay organized and follow the instructions of the court. It’s definitely still a good idea to avoid the full probate process, if you can. We’ll walk you through whichever scenario applies to your loved one’s estate.


Loss is hard. Its vocabulary shouldn’t be.

We speak the specialized language of estates and funerals so you don’t have to.


The person appointed by the court to handle the estate of someone who dies without a will.

The duties of an administrator are similar to those of an executor, but as there is no will to execute, he or she is named administrator and distributes assets according to a procedure dictated by state law.


The sum total of someone’s net worth, including all assets. From a legal standpoint, an estate is not simply everything the person owns, but the value of all of these assets minus any debts or other liabilities. Estates are calculated differently depending on their purpose.
For example, the taxable estate may include assets that are not in the probate estate.


A service held to commemorate someone’s life. Memorials are generally considered distinct from funerals in that they are held without the body present and are not focused on the burial, although services where the urn with the loved one’s ashes is present are also called memorials. Traditionally, a funeral is a more formal service while memorials are often more unstructured.

To see the full glossary