Probate is the legal and court process by which property is transferred from a person who has died to another person or persons or other entity or entities, where other means of transfer (such as, a joint tenancy or pay on death account) have not been used. In Illinois probate will probably be required where the deceased person owned real estate or had personal property valued at more than $100,000. Property can transfer through probate in accord with a person's will or without a will by intestate succession (that is, to a dead person's legal heirs). A person's legal heirs, in Illinois, are determined in accord with the Illinois laws of descent and distribution (http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs4.asp?DocName=075500050HArt%2E+II&ActID=2104&ChapterID=60&SeqStart=3700000&SeqEnd=5000000).
Probate also provides for and is the way a deceased persons debts are determined and paid. In Illinois probate law provides for publication in a newspaper so that creditors can file their claims within 6 months of the publication or the debts will be barred from being collected. If there is no probate and no publication for claims the creditors of the decedent have two years after the death of the decedent to collect their money from the assets of the decedent, even if his or her heirs now have the money or assets of the decedent.
In a nutshell Probate is a legal process by which a decedent's assets are transferred and debts paid. Assets can also be transferred by a trust or gifts before death, which processes do not involve probate.
One should not attempt to probate an estate without an attorney's help. Probate is a complicated process and normally will require the services of an attorney who regularly practices in probate court. An attorney who regularly practices in probate court will not have to learn the court procedures and law that apply in probate by handling your case. He or she, because of his or her vast experience, will be able to do things quicker and with lower total fees than an attorney who does not regularly practice probate law.