Exploring Social Security Cases and Outcomes

What Happens When An Estate Goes To Probate?

by Marie Caldwell

Given the relative rarity of folks interacting with the probate law system, it's understandable that some may have apprehensions about the process. If you're already involved with probate or worried that you might become involved with it, here are four things you ought to know about what happens when it starts.

What Triggers Probate?

One of two scenarios typically plays out. In the first one, the estate is large enough in value that it meets a specific statutory limit in the state where the deceased lived. Depending on the state, this could range from a few thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands.

The second scenario involves someone petitioning the probate court. A judge will review the petition, but probate is only triggered if the judge believes there is reason to order probate. For example, there might be questions about which of two conflicting versions of a will is the valid one.


When an estate enters into probate, the court will appoint an administrator. This person will serve a role not unlike that of the executor of an estate, but this individual will report to the court.

Notably, the administrator has a fiduciary responsibility to maintain as much of the value contained within the estate. This means that if there is money in the estate, for example, the administrator has a duty to preserve as much of the value of the money by placing it into extremely-low risk accounts. Doing so will present undue financial risks. Also, as a fiduciary, the administrator can be held liable for financial losses that occur through negligent or reckless handling of the estate's money and resources.

Control of the Deceased's Assets

Probate is functionally a timeout. The court will place the assets in the control of the administrator, and the assets will remain until all matters are resolved.

Suppose a house was part of the estate. The court would take control of the title, and the administrator might use a portion of the money from the estate to handle the basic maintenance of the property. Such actions ensure the house will still be in decent condition whenever it is either sold or placed in the possession of a beneficiary.

Retaining Counsel

You are not required by the court to retain probate law services. Depending on the size of the estate in question, you may want to hire an attorney to explain some things, represent your interests, and protect your rights.  

If you have questions about probate law, find an attorney in your area.