Probate court judge writing notes.

How do you know if probate is required?

The aftermath of a death is one of the most stressful events in life — and if you are the executor or administrator of an estate, you’re may be facing a lot of confusion on top of your existing grief and stress.  

When dealing with estate matters, it’s important to have a clear understanding of whether or not you need to take your assets through probate.  

If you’re not sure whether or not you need probate, we’re here to help you figure that out. 


When is probate required?

In certain circumstances, probate is required in order to ensure the legal transfer of assets from a decedent to the rightful heirs.  

During this process, the court decides who is legally entitled to the assets, if these details are not already formalized. The court’s job is also to confirm that the will and it’s directives are, in fact, legal, and that assets are distributed to the rightful heirs.

Generally, there can be several factors which may determine whether or not you need probate — for instance:

  • Type of property
  • Who owns the property
  • The state you are in
  • Value of property
  • Whether there is a named beneficiary  

It’s up to the executor to go to a probate court, and if there is no will or no executor the probate court will appoint someone as the executor.  

See: What assets go through probate?

Whether or not you need to go through probate is not dependent on whether there is a will. In fact if there is a will, probate helps to ensure that it is followed properly. But if there isn’t a will, sometimes probate is required in order to ensure that assets are moved forwards according to state laws of inheritance.

See: How to probate an estate without a will


When is probate not required?

Estate assets which are under a certain state-based value also may not need to go through formal probate. There are simplified procedures in most states that only require an affidavit (sworn statement) to allow transfer of assets from small estates.  

Here are a few types of assets which are typically automatically transferred and therefore don’t need probate:  

  • Jointly held or co-owned assets (Joint Ownership With Rights Of Survivor)
  • Assets that already have a designated valid beneficiary (eg: retirement accounts)
  • Assets which include a payable-on-death (POD) or transfer-on-death (TOD) provision
  • Assets in a living trust
  • Life insurance with valid beneficiaries
  • Pensions with valid beneficiaries
  • Some other types of property ownership (eg: community property)
  • Some other assets such as household goods and vehicles are subject to certain state inheritance laws (eg: vehicles)
  • Any contractual agreement (eg: Business Buy Sell Agreements)

Since estate asset threshold amounts vary from state to state, and there are various other factors which may determine whether or not you need probate, we strongly recommend that you review our resources page for more information, and speak to a trusted professional if you still have questions.    

See: When is probate not necessary?


Estate Assets & Probate

Since each state has a different minimum estate value threshold for probate as well as other different probate and inheritance laws, the dollar value itself may not be enough to tell you whether or not an estate requires probate.

You may also have a situation where the estate includes several assets which don’t require probate, but the total value of the estate is high. In this case, you would usually only need to consider the value of the probate assets.  

With smaller estates, often you can either sign an affidavit confirming that all ownership is legal, or use another means to simplify the probate process.  

But bear in mind that there are some instances where probate is required even though the estate is below the threshold value — for instance, should an insurance or title company demand legal proof of property ownership, they may push for the probate process to obtain this legal proof. State laws vary regarding probate requirements for property, and in certain regions they are more complex than others.  

If you have questions about probate in your state, contact us today for a free consultation. Our expert team is available to help you navigate probate, and we may also have an attorney partner in your state if you need expert legal counsel.