“Probate” is the court proceeding that determines whether a Will (aka Last Will and Testament) is valid. If the Will is found to be properly signed with legal formalities, the executor named in the Will oversees the payment of debts, taxes and distribution of estate assets. If you don’t have a Will, the laws of the state where you reside (file tax returns, register your car and vote) will spell out who gets what, and appoint someone to take care of it (I’m betting you don’t want that).
Probates can be time consuming and expensive. State filing fees, court-ordered paperwork and the need for legal counsel are just a few of hoops your family will have to jump through. And all that’s assuming your loved ones handle everything calmly and thoughtfully.
As an estate planner, I like to avoid probate whenever possible. But even if you can avoid probate, you’ll need someone in charge of wrapping up the threads of your life, and the only way to legally name that person, is by appointing an executor in your Will.