This blog has extensively discussed various forms of estate planning including trusts, wills and other documents designed to make decisions easier and cut red tape faster in case of a loved one's passing or incapacity. But what happens when there is a will and it needs to be administered through the probate process? You may be vaguely aware that many people hire attorneys to handle this procedure. But what exactly do lawyers do during probate?
That answer will, of course, be slightly different in each case. Good attorneys tailor their actions to the needs of the individual client, so as to represent that client's interests as well as can be reasonably expected, and so that there is no wasted time, which often means higher fees. In general, however, an attorney handling a probate estate will, aside from filing the necessary paperwork with the probate court, settle the debts of the estate, determine who the beneficiaries of the estate are, and handle the distribution of assets of the estate.
Settling debts usually means giving notice to any known creditors of the deceased, as well as often posting public notice of the probate proceeding so any unknown creditors are given the opportunity to come forward. Determining the beneficiaries may seem easy, but there may be difficulties in interpreting the will, or some intervening events may have made the line of heirs more complex. Once this is done, a probate attorney can handle making certain whatever is left of the estate is given to individuals or organizations according to the intent of the testator.
Of course, there is also always the chance of someone contesting the will on one ground or other. There may be a family member who believes someone had undue influence on the testator when he or she made the will, or that the testator was not competent at the time. Experienced probate attorneys are familiar with such claims, and are aware of what can be done to most effectively attempt to defend against them. If you want some more information on what goes into estate administration, please consider taking a look at our web page on the subject.