Formal and Informal Administrations
Probate is a court-supervised process for transferring ownership of a deceased person's assets. If the deceased person has a Will, the probate process will determine if the Will is valid and, if so, distribute the person’s net probate estate as the Will directs. If the deceased person did not leave a valid Will and has sufficient assets subject to probate, there will still be a probate with the net probate estate being distributed to those beneficiaries set by law.
With formal administration a judge presides over the probate proceeding. With informal administration, the county’s register in probate presides. If someone challenges the Will or if other contested issues arise, there will likely be a formal administration and a probate judge will resolve such disputes.
Informal administration is more streamlined than formal and usually requires fewer court appearances.
A lawyer assists the personal representative (sometimes called the executor) in fulfilling his or her duties in administering the estate through probate.
If the deceased person’s assets total less than $50,000, probate is probably not necessary, and the person’s assets can be transferred with a "transfer by affidavit" form.
Depending on a person’s circumstances and estate planning goals, a lawyer can help in setting up an estate plan to avoid probate and the expense and delay that accompanies probate.