What is Probate Inheritance?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 22 January 2020
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Probate inheritance is a term used to describe objects, property, and assets which are willed to heirs and held temporarily in probate after death. Until the probate period is complete, people cannot access their inheritance. After probate is finished, the legacies held in probate will be released to the heirs, and the heirs will be responsible for paying taxes on them.

The length of probate can vary. If someone dies with a will and the will is straightforward, probate can be relatively short; the process simply involves verifying the death, making sure that creditors are attended to, valuing the estate, and confirming that legacies left in the will are ready for distribution. A probate attorney can assist, and the process can be relatively easy.

If a will is contested, probate can drag on for years. Family members may have grounds to contest for any number of reasons, and their arguments can tie things up in probate. Until the issues are resolved, probate cannot end, and heirs will not be able to access their probate inheritance. Some heirs have been known to use this to their advantage, leaning on heirs who might need access to funds by prolonging probate until the needy heirs agree to new terms.


If someone dies without a will, things can be tied up in probate inheritance for a long time. The court must appoint a personal representative to handle probate, and this representative must determine how to distribute the belongings of the deceased. This can be an involved process, especially if the deceased controlled numerous assets.

People who require immediate access to funds can pledge their probate inheritance to a third party. In exchange for an interest in the estate, the third party will offer a cash payment. People should be careful about doing this, as they may lose money on the transaction through fees and other costs, and giving up their right to their inheritance may be something which is regretted later. It is also important to be aware that the value of someone's probate inheritance is not necessarily what will be inherited, because there are costs involved in settling the estate.

Proper estate planning can help people avoid long probate. People should make sure that their wills are detailed and up to date, and that family members as well as any appointed personal representatives are familiar with their express wishes. This will reduce confusion and room for debate during probate.


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