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What is the purpose of probate?

This New Jersey estate administration blog has used prior posts to discuss the importance of having solid estate planning tools in one's end-of-life portfolio. Trusts, wills and other testamentary devices are often needed to fully explain a decedent's intentions for what to do with his property after he has passed on. However, a person may wonder why a decedent's estate must go through probate if he has taken the time to fully create a good estate plan.

Probate exists in part to fill in any holes that a person may have in her estate administration plan. A person may acquire additional property or debts after executing all of his testamentary documents and may not stipulate exactly what she wants done with those assets and liabilities. In probate, the decedent's property is amassed, her debts and other obligations are fulfilled, her testamentary documents are reviewed, and her property is then distributed in accordance with her wishes.

Probate also gives individuals with interests in the decedent's estate an opportunity to challenge or question the testamentary documents applicable to the estate's disposition. A party may feel that the decedent was pressured into making a particular bequest or that a late change in the decedent's will was executed by someone other than the decedent. The probate process sorts out these challenges to ensure that the decedent's wishes are followed.

Unfortunately, probate is not free. Estates can be reduced in size due to the administrative costs of working through probate. However, individuals can mitigate the impact of probate on their estates by making sure their estate plans are in order. Those with estate plans can always meet with their estate administration attorneys to review their testamentary documents, and those who do not have estate plans may find legal professionals to help them begin the estate planning process.

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