How to begin a probate proceeding
To begin a probate proceeding, the executor of the will or an attorney acting on behalf the estate must initiate the proceeding with the local probate court. (If there is no will, then the next of kin must initiate an administration proceeding at the probate court.) The person initiating probate must physically go to the court to file the will. This act begins the probate process.
During the probate process, the court will review the will and determine whether or not the will is a valid legal document—that is, whether or not the will is legally binding and was in fact created by the person who died. Depending on the protocols of the state you're probating in, as well as the size and complexity of the deceased's estate, the probate process can take a short time (weeks) or a long time (years). A local estate attorney can take a look at the will and give you an estimate of how long the probate process will likely take.
Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration
If the court determines that the will is valid, the court will give the executor legal documents called either Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration. These documents authorize the executor named in the will to distribute assets to beneficiaries named in the will. This may include transferring assets into the names of the beneficiaries and paying any debts or taxes on behalf of the estate.
Probate in more than one state
If the person who died owned property in more than one state (such as houses), you will have to initiate probate proceedings in those states where the other properties are located. This may require you to hire a lawyer in each state.
Before you begin the probate process, see our article Before You Submit a Will to Probate.