Lots of us have heard the term "probate," but have a shaky understanding of just what it means. So here is the quick version: Probate is the court-supervised process of gathering a deceased person's assets, paying debts and taxes, and distributing what's left to the people who inherit it. Literally, the word comes from the Latin for "to prove," because a central part of many probates is proving that the will is valid. But a probate proceeding can occur whether or not there's a will.
If you've been named the executor (also called personal representative) of someone's estate, then you're in charge of probate. It can be a long, tedious process, and expensive, too, when court costs and attorney's fees are added up. But it's mostly paperwork, and you'll be able to get through it just fine if you're organized, honest, and patient. You may also be able to take advantage of probate shortcuts--processes that let inheritors claim their property more quickly and easily than a regular probate proceeding does.