My Relative Passed Away. How Do I Know if a Probate is Necessary?

A probate may not be needed if the total value of the decedent's assets are less than $100,000 or if the only heir is a surviving spouse. Additionally, prior to death, a person may have structured their assets so that a probate can be avoided. Real property, bank accounts, IRAs, stock portfolios, vehicles and other assets can be directly or automatically transferred upon the owner's death if title was held jointly with another person or if the decedent executed a beneficiary designation. Another common way people transfer their assets without probate is through a living trust. When decedent's assets cannot be transferred through any of these alternate methods, a probate is usually necessary.

Even when decedent's property can be transferred through alternate methods, it may still be necessary to commence probate proceedings. For example, the decedent may have been a party to a lawsuit when they died, or otherwise have a claim or dispute, which can only be prosecuted, defended or maintained through a probate. A probate can also be advantageous when the decedent has substantial debts because probate rules require creditors to follow strict procedural guidelines for asserting a claim against decedent's estate, including a limited claim-filing period, or their claims may be barred.