June 20, 2024

Understanding the Basics

When someone passes away, they leave behind their belongings, assets, and debts. These collectively form what is known as their estate. An estate can include a wide range of things, such as real estate properties, bank accounts, investments, vehicles, personal possessions, and more. Essentially, it is the sum total of everything a person owns or owes at the time of their death.

The Role of Probate

After someone dies, their estate typically goes through a legal process called probate. This involves validating the deceased person’s will, if one exists, and distributing their assets and paying off any outstanding debts. The probate process ensures that the deceased person’s wishes are followed and that their estate is settled in an organized and fair manner.

Executor of the Estate

One important aspect of handling an estate after someone dies is the appointment of an executor. This is usually specified in the deceased person’s will. The executor is responsible for managing the estate throughout the probate process. Their duties may include identifying and inventorying assets, paying debts and taxes, and distributing inheritance to beneficiaries.

Types of Estates

There are different types of estates that can exist after someone dies, depending on various factors. Here are a few common types:

Testate Estate

A testate estate is one where the deceased person left behind a valid will. The will outlines how the assets should be distributed and who should be responsible for managing the estate. In this case, the probate process follows the instructions laid out in the will.

Intestate Estate

An intestate estate is one where the deceased person did not leave behind a valid will or any instructions for the distribution of their assets. In such cases, the estate will be distributed according to the laws of the state in which the person resided.

Small Estate

In some cases, the estate may be considered small and qualify for simplified probate procedures. This typically applies when the total value of the assets falls below a certain threshold set by state law. Simplified probate procedures can help expedite the settlement process.

Settling the Estate

Settling an estate involves various steps, including:

Asset Inventory

The executor must identify and inventory all the assets that belonged to the deceased person. This includes bank accounts, investments, real estate properties, personal possessions, and more. A thorough inventory is crucial for accurately valuing the estate.

Debt Settlement

The executor is responsible for paying off any outstanding debts owed by the deceased person. This can include mortgages, loans, credit card balances, and other liabilities. Debts are typically settled using funds from the estate.

Asset Distribution

Once all debts have been settled, the remaining assets can be distributed to the beneficiaries according to the instructions in the will or the laws of intestate succession. This may involve transferring ownership of properties, liquidating assets, or dividing funds among the beneficiaries.


Understanding what happens to an estate after someone dies can help demystify the probate process. Whether the estate is large or small, having a clear understanding of the steps involved can ensure a smooth settlement and the proper distribution of assets. If you find yourself in the position of handling an estate, it is advisable to seek professional guidance to navigate the legal requirements and ensure everything is handled properly.