What is Probate?

What is Probate?

As an experienced law firm that routinely deals with elderly clients and their families, we are often asked “what is probate?” Before answering this question, it’s important to understand that there’s a specialized court known as “probate court.” These courts deal with specialized issues relating to illness, disability, and death.

Simply put, probate is a court supervised process that oversees the distribution of someone’s assets and inheritance after they pass away.

This article provides a background on probate and describes various legal issues that an attorney who practices in this area deals with.


In an ideal scenario, the person who passed away left a will that dictates who receives what. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. For example, people can disagree and file a dispute over inheritance. Furthermore, not everyone has a valid will when they pass away.

Probate is a process used to determine who should inherit someone’s property after they pass away. This process slightly differs depending on each State. In the State of Michigan, each county has their own individual probate court.

What Do Probate Attorneys Do?

As previously discussed, this area of law involves the legal aspects of death and inheritance. In some ways, this has a great deal of overlap with other practice areas such as estate planning; see article on what is estate planning.

Below is a list of common issues a lawyer for this practice area may handle.

  • Estate Administration (asset distribution)
  • Trust Administration
  • Dying without a valid will
  • Adult Guardianship
  • Child Guardianship
  • Guardianship Disputes
  • Disputes over inheritance
  • Contested Wills
  • Trust Litigation
  • Conservatorship

Here is a brief video of attorney Sean Nichols answering the question “what is probate?” and describing what this practice area entails.

YouTube video overlay that plays a video of probate lawyer Sean J Nichols discussing the process of probate in Michigan

Video Transcript

Hi, my name is Sean Nichols. I’m the founder and managing partner of Sean J Nichols, PLLC. What is probate? Probate court is a specialized court that each county has in the State of Michigan that deals with the legal issues associated with aging or illness.

If someone gets ill and cannot manage their affairs and has not done estate planning then probate court is where you go to get guardianship or conservatorship. Guardianship is what allows someone to manage health decisions of placement of someone who’s incapacitated and conservatorship allows someone to manage the finances of an individual who’s incapacitated.

Probate court is also where you go if someone dies with, or without a will and have assets that need to be administered through the probate system. It’s also where you go if you want to challenge a will, trust, beneficiary account, etc.

Sean J Nichols, PLLC deals almost exclusively in probate court. This includes the Wayne County Probate Court, Oakland County Probate Court, and Washtenaw County Probate Court.

If you have any questions about probate, contact us today.

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