If you recently lost a loved one and were tasked with handling his or her final affairs, you may wonder where to start and what you must do. Some estates must go through probate, while others may be resolved without this legal process. 

According to FindLaw.com, probate involves deciding whether a valid will exists, appointing an executor or administrator, distributing any assets to beneficiaries and heirs, and paying off any of the decedent’s outstanding debts. 

Dying with a will 

In the event your loved one has a valid will, that document may specify your responsibilities. This may include specifying what assets should pass on to whom and how. Typically, estates for which wills exist may have to go through the probate process if they include the following: 

  • Real estate owned solely by the decedent 
  • Real estate co-owned as tenants in common 
  • Bank accounts in the name of the decedent with no co-owner and no beneficiary designation 
  • Cars registered only in the decedent’s name 
  • Stocks and bonds issued to the decedent 

Additionally, tangible possessions, such as jewelry, clothing and household furnishings, must also go through probate. In some cases, those estates that do not include such items may bypass the probate process. 

Skipping probate 

Should your recently deceased loved one have passed without leaving a will, you may request that the estate skip the probate process. In order to gain approval from the court for this expedited process, you and any other heirs to the estate must agree to the settling of the estate outside of probate. To this end, you must file a written plan with the court detailing how the estate’s property will get distributed. If your loved one left behind outstanding debt, then you must also gain approval from his or her creditors for your petition to bypass the probate process.