Estate planning and probate have a critical relationship, because the latter decides if a last will is authentic, possibly determining what should happen with the estate. Planning of an estate is a process in which a person takes note of all his or her possessions and drafts a document saying to whom each part of the estate must go to when he or she dies. Probate court is a process in which a court looks over a deceased person’s last will and testament to judge whether the statements made within it truly represent the desires of that person. The process of probate involves distributing the estate as directed by the will, in addition to resolving conflicts should any arise.
In general, the more possessions a person has, the more complicated estate planning and probate become. Estate planning takes into account every home, vehicle and other item of value, including stocks and cash. A person must decide what should be done with everything; for example, leaving it all to a spouse, or dividing it between a spouse, children and charity are all possibilities. In rare cases, people have been known to leave large fortunes to a pet, which usually goes toward maintaining the standard of care the animal is used to. Eventually, a probate judge reads over the wishes of the deceased person and helps distribute the estate based on what the law allows and the claims and arguments of living relatives.
Once a person dies, his or her possessions go through probate court, which is where the relationship between estate planning and probate can get complicated. This kind of court is also known as orphans court, or court of ordinary. Sometimes a family member will dispute the will of a deceased person, perhaps stating that the person was not of clear mind when the last will and testament was created. It can also be argued that one is owed possession of some goods or that the will on file is outdated.
Some jurisdictions do not have a probate system. They are most common in the United States and the United Kingdom, but other jurisdictions often have similar systems in place to deal with wills and estate planning disputes. Depending on the jurisdiction, the probate court system may handle other matters with no relation between estate planning and probate, such as removing guardianship over children cared for by unfit parents, granting name changes, or preventing minors from getting married.