Probate research is the process of determining who has a claim in the estate of a deceased person, or decedent. That claim might arise from the decedent's will. If a person dies without a will, called dying "intestate," probate law determines who are the heirs to the decedent's estate and in which order. In addition, probate research will include finding what property the decedent's estate contains.
Probate is the process by which a decedent's estate is administered. The court that handles probate matters will determine who has a claim and will distribute the decedent's property. The probate court will interpret the will and adjudicate the cases of persons who say they have claims against the estate. When there is a will, the court follows the will's instructions about who is the executor to administer the estate. If the decedent died intestate, however, the court appoints an administrator.
If the decedent has a valid will, the executor distributes the estate in keeping with the decedent's instructions. Should the decedent die intestate, the law determines who has inheritance rights. The persons with such rights are called heirs. Probate research often includes the process of determining who the heirs are and then trying to find the heirs. An executor or administrator must also do probate research to determine what property the estate includes.
Sometimes people might believe that they have inheritance rights in a relative's estate. Those people must do probate research to determine who else has made a probate claim in that estate. Potential heirs also might seek to determine the size of the estate. This can be done by accessing probate court records. In some countries, these records are public, so anyone has a right to see them.
Especially when a person dies intestate, finding the heirs is often the most important type of probate research. Although much of property of a married person who dies intestate often automatically passes to the surviving spouse, finding other heirs might be difficult. The administrator generally is required to advertise for potential heirs to tell them how to make a claim. If someone believes that he or she ought to inherit from a deceased relative, probate research includes searching for such an advertisement. He or she can then follow the instructions on how to file a probate claim.