Unless certain steps have been taken, executors will need to deal with probate. Here's how it works.

Lots of us have heard the term "probate," but have a shaky understanding of just what it means. So here is the quick version: Probate is the court-supervised process of gathering a deceased person's assets, paying debts and taxes, and distributing what's left to the people who inherit it. Literally, the word comes from the Latin for "to prove," because a central part of many probates is proving that the will is valid. But a probate proceeding can occur whether or not there's a will.

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