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Background Information about Probate

What is probate?

Probate is a court process to transfer property owned by the person who died to the persons who are supposed to receive the property. It involves several steps:

The Forms and Instructions page has links to specific information about the different steps of the process.

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When is a probate required?

A probate is required when a person dies and owns property that does not automatically pass to someone else, or the estate doesn't qualify to use the Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property procedure. A probate allows a Personal Representative to transfer legal title of that property to the proper persons. A probate may also be necessary to handle claims against the person who died or the person's property, to settle disagreements between beneficiaries or heirs, to appoint a Guardian of a minor child or for other reasons.

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Does all property need to go through probate when a person dies?

No. Only property owned by the person who died which does not pass automatically to a survivor must go through probate. The title to some property passes to a survivor without filing anything with the court. This type of property is called nonprobate property. It might include property held jointly with another person if there is a right of survivorship, real property with a Transfer on Death Deed, life insurance benefits, retirement benefits or property held by a revocable trust.

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Who is in charge of the probate process?

The court appoints a Personal Representative to handle the probate process. The Personal Representative is usually a family member or friend of the person who died but can be an organization such as a bank or trust company. The Personal Representative is required to keep the court informed of the progress of the probate. For more information, see Personal Representative Duties and Responsibilities.

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Does it matter whether the person who died left a Will?

No. A probate is needed to transfer legal title to the property owned by the person who died whether or not the person left a Will. The probate process is generally the same with or without a Will. The main difference is to whom the person's property passes at the end of the probate.

A Will allows the person who died to decide who receives his or her probate property and under what conditions. A person who made a Will is said to have died "testate." The property usually passes to the beneficiaries named in the Will. For more information, see Wills.

The property of a person who does not have a Will passes to a person's heirs in the amounts set out by Alaska law. A person who did not make a Will is said to have died "intestate." For more information, see Death Without a Will - Intestacy.

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How long does a probate take?

Probate usually takes between six months and a year to finish, but often longer. A probate may take more time if there are debts to handle, disagreements between the beneficiaries or heirs, problems finding or transferring property or other complicated matters.

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Do I need a lawyer?

No. But it can be a good idea if the probate is complicated. A lawyer can help you file the right paperwork, meet deadlines and avoid mistakes and delays. A lawyer can also help if there are debts, creditor claims or disagreements between family members, beneficiaries or heirs.

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How can I find a probate lawyer?

You can follow the suggestions in the section on Probate Resources. Some lawyers handle the entire probate process which can be very helpful if you feel overwhelmed or the estate is complicated. But if you feel confident that you can handle parts of the probate, some lawyers provide "unbundled services" which means that they will give advice only when you need it or handle only those parts of a probate with which you ask for help.

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Do I have any options other than probate?

Yes. You can transfer title to the property of someone who died without a full probate in the following ways:

  1. Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property
    You can transfer title to the person's property using a special document called an Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property If the person who died: You do not have to file anything with the court. Read more about the Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property.
  2. Small Estates
    In a probate, the Personal Representative must prepare an Inventory of the property owned by the person who died. If the Inventory shows that the value of the estate is not greater than a certain amount, it qualifies as a small estate. The Personal Representative can transfer title to the property and immediately close the probate without following any of the remaining steps. Read more about the Small Estates.
  3. Nonprobate Transfers
    If the person who died held the property with someone else who had a right of survivorship or if he or she named someone else to automatically inherit the property, title can be transferred to the survivor without probate. For example, before the person dies, he or she can record a Transfer on Death Deed for real property which transfers property to named beneficiary(ies) effective on the transferor’s death without probate. In addition, proceeds from life insurance policies and retirement accounts transfer to named beneficiaries without probate.

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Where can I get information about the different parts of the probate process?

On the Forms and Instructions page, you will find links to detailed sections of the entire process.

In the Procedural Probate Steps section, you will find information about the different steps, including a timeline.

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Rev. 21 July 2014
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