What Is Probate and Estate Administration?

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Each state provides a legal process for the orderly settlement of a decedent’s property and other assets. When a person makes a Last Will and Testament during their life, the person’s (testator’s) Will is presented to a court to assure the estate assets are distributed as directed by the terms of the Will, after valid debts and final expenses are paid.

When a decedent leaves no Will, they are said to have died “intestate,” and the state law dictates who shall inherit any assets and in what amount. This is called the law of “intestate succession.”

Drafting Wills and Other Testamentary Documents

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When an elder lawyer drafts a Will and other legal instruments affecting the end-of-life plans for a client, they consider the testator’s individual life circumstances, their financial assets and liabilities, as well as their family relationships and business interests. 

Experienced elder law attorneys understand the strategies that best will best accomplish the goals of the client establishing their estate plan. 

Because probating a person’s estate carries a potential of substantial litigation costs and risks inconvenient delays for the testator’s survivors, most comprehensive estate planning elder attorneys seek to bypass probate court by using other estate planning techniques. 

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Administering Estates

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When a person nominates a person as executor of their will, they are entrusting that nominee to carry out the specific wishes of the decedent regarding the disposition of their estate’s assets. That process may prove to be a simple, straightforward assignment or it can begin a complicated serious of claims and counterclaims among disappointed heirs.

Rarely is an untrained family member or friend competent to administer the fiduciary duties an estate executor is responsible to carry out. Elder law attorneys who study probate law professionally and who draft the legal instruments that are the subject of the probate court’s attention are uniquely qualified to represent those who are named to execute a decedent’s last Will and Testament.

Preserving and Maintaining Estate Property

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During the time an estate remains in probate court, attorneys managing estate administration duties search for unidentified or unaccounted for assets, respond to any claims filed by the decedent’s creditors, prepare and file tax returns, preserve and maintain any residential or commercial real estate, and represent the estate against prospective heirs who legally contest the terms of the Will.

Elder law attorneys are specialists in ensuring the smooth administration of probate estates and are best qualified to respond effectively when disputes threaten to grow into litigation. As an officer of the court with fiduciary responsibility to the estate and its rightful beneficiaries, finding a Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA) in your jurisdiction is the best practice to follow.