Probate court is the division of a state court system that deals with wills and estates. In some states, such as California and New Hampshire, the probate court covers other matters such as petitions for name changes. The most common reason an individual files in probate court is to wind up a person's affairs after that person dies. The type of petition or form required for filing varies depending on the state rules. Also, state rules may vary in terms of what (if any) notice is required and various aspects of timing.
Obtain an original copy of the deceased's death certificate and look for a copy of his or her will. Note that a will is not required to file for probate; if the deceased wrote a will, the court will typically follow the instructions left in the will. Otherwise, the state's intestate statute applies.
Contact the personal representative or executor named in the deceased's will. If there is no will, contact the deceased's surviving spouse, children or immediate family members. Many probate courts require either the personal representative named in a will or an immediate member of the decedent's family to file the estate papers in probate court.
Fill in your state's "petition for probate." Forms are available in the probate court; visit the court located in the county where the decedent lived. Typically, you must state the type of probate you are applying for e.g., "probate of will" or "letters of administration," that are usually used when no will exists, the decedent's name and address, when the decedent died and your personal information.
Attach copies of the death certificate and the will (if there is one) and pay the filing fee to the probate court clerk. Filing fees vary by state and may amount to hundreds of dollars.
Comply with the court orders. After filing the petition, the probate court typically authorizes a personal representative to act. Once authorized, the personal representative must inventory the decedent's estate, publish notices to heirs and creditors, and wind up the decedent's estate by paying debts and distributing property. Probate courts typically provide a schedule to the personal representative detailing when each task must be completed.