The late and great comedian George Carlin had a hilarious routine about "stuff". He would expound upon the way in which we continue to accumulate possessions as we go through life and the problems of storing (sometimes you have to buy a bigger house) or traveling with an ever-expanding collection of "stuff". On that dark, dark day when one can no longer fog a mirror with one’s breath, it becomes necessary to make a final disposition of all of that "stuff". In a nutshell, that is what the probate process is basically about.

A will is little more than written directions of what should become of our stuff when we are gone. The law wants you to be able to dispose of your possessions as you see fit and the probate process is a way to enable you to do just that. Within the framework that the law prescribes for a will, you can pretty much do as you wish. You can disinherit your neer-do-well nephew Ralphie and leave everything you have to the local animal shelter (although you cannot totally disinherit your surviving spouse who retains his or her right to receive an "elective share" of your testamentary estate).

The word "probate" is from the Latin "to prove". The probate process enables us to determine that those written directions –the will —  are the genuine article, were actually written by the deceased who was legally competent (the law sets a very low bar for this) to make a will and was under no undue pressure to do so. Keeping in mind that the one person who can tell us exactly what was intended is no longer with us to do so, it is important that the will be properly witnessed according to the provisions set forth in the law and that a duly licensed attorney preside over the execution  of the will. In determining whether or not to admit the will to probate , the Surrogate can therefore be guided by proof that the rite of due execution was properly carried out. 

The law also sets very definite requirements as to who must receive notice that a will is being offered for probate. Any relative who would inherit if there were no will and the decedent died intestate must be notified as must anyone mentioned in the will for any purpose. Unless a waiver of such notice is given, a citation must be served directing its recipient to show up in court on on a date set by the Surrogate if he or she has any objection to the probating of the will.

There are those times when wills do not conform to the form set forth in the law  and when the circumstances surrounding execution do not exactly comport with the law either. While the court will do its best to allow such a will to be admitted to probate if at all possible, conforming to the provisions clearly set forth in the Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act will make it far more likely that your "stuff" will be disposed of pursuant to your wishes.