Each state has its own paths for probate. Still, generally, the paths fall into the following categories:
Simple Small Estates
In simple small estate paths, an affidavit is prepared and presented to the asset holder to distribute the assets appropriately. This process has little to no court involvement, no authority is granted, and no estate is formally opened. The process is only used to transfer assets under a set threshold (often, but not always, excluding real property).
In summary paths, a petition is filed with the court requesting a court issue a decree ordering the transfer of assets. Depending on the state, the summary process may involve a hearing. This process has less court involvement than full probate, no authority is granted, and no estate is formally opened. The process is only used to acquire an order to transfer assets under a set threshold.
In full probate paths, A petition is filed with the court asking for a personal representative to be assigned authority over the estate. The appointed personal representative has the authority to act on behalf of the estate. Priority for appointment of the personal representative is determined by the will or the state’s laws (usually priority is given to next of kin). This process has the most court involvement, an estate is formally opened, and authority is given to the appointed personal representative.
Some states have two versions of full probate, an informal and a formal path:
This path has lots of court involvement, usually requires an attorney, and is often required in cases with contested wills or petitions.
This path has less court involvement once appointed, does not require an attorney, often requires the agreement of all heirs, and typically requires less documentation.