A letter of probate is a court order that authorizes an executor or administrator to handle the administrative matters of a deceased person's collective estate. Probate refers to the entire process of administering the estates of the deceased, with court supervision.
If the appropriate court finds that the deceased person's will is valid, it may "admit" the will to probate if necessary. Probate generally only happens under certain circumstances, such as outstanding claims involving creditors, extensive inheritance issues or an unclear assessed value.
Probate is useful in cases involving complex and numerous creditor claims, challenges to the will or disputes over interpretation and details of the will. Court oversight helps to supervise the proceedings and resolve conflicts.
Entering the probate process can potentially tie up a great deal of time and money. The more complicated the estate is to administer the longer it will take to resolve, sometimes over one or two years. Probate eliminates all privacy regarding the deceased person's financial affairs by opening it up to public scrutiny.