Informal probate is a method of avoiding the involvement of a court while settling the estate of a person who died. Settling or administering the estate means gathering the property of the decedent, the person who died, for distribution to his heirs. The person settling the estate, otherwise known as the executor, must use the estate's assets to pay any debts left by the decedent before distributing remaining assets to the heirs.
The laws authorizing informal probate vary in each jurisdiction. An informal probate is usually permissible, if all heirs to the estate agree. If there is a dispute between the heirs, then it may be necessary to proceed with a formal probate. This means the court will conduct hearings to resolve any disputes. If a dispute arises during the course of an informal probate, then the court may intervene, upon request, to conduct a supervised probate.
To initiate the process of an informal probate, most jurisdictions require that the executor apply for approval from the appropriate probate office. The applicant may also request a grant of representation, which is a document that officially recognizes a person to serve as a personal representative or executor of the decedent. The will often designates the person to serve as an executor. If a person dies without a will, then an heir may request recognition as the executor in his application for informal probate. A registrar for the probate office will issue a grant of representation as long as no one raises objections.
If the registrar approves the application for an informal probate, the executor may proceed. An executor must gather property, pay debts and taxes, and divide property between the heirs. The executor may take these actions without obtaining approval from the court. The executor, however, is still obligated to comply with applicable laws concerning the probate. The executor may secure the assistance of a lawyer to help ensure compliance.
An informal probate is usually less expensive than a formal probate because it eliminates the necessity of court hearings. This does not mean an executor can ignore the law when settling the estate. An executor is obligated to comply with applicable laws regulating an informal probate. The law holds an executor liable to interested parties to the estate. Thus, a person serving as an executor would be wise to comply with all applicable laws and to seek legal advice to ensure proper compliance.