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Probate attorneys deal with the legal process during which the will is validated; the assets of the deceased are inventoried; and all debts, creditor claims (including applicable lawsuits) and taxes are paid. Then, once it is determined who is entitled by the probate proceedings, the remaining assets that were left in the will are distributed to the named beneficiaries and heirs.
Probate attorneys and probate lawyers must understand that the probate process is generally overseen by an executor, if there is a will, or by a court, and a court appointed personal representative, if there is no will. Probate can take anywhere from four months to a number of years to be completed, depending on state laws and varying circumstances.
A will is probated in the county and state in which the testator (person who wrote the will) died. If the testator owned any property in another state, another probate proceeding will be started in that state and county. Assets that do not pass directly to a surviving spouse or other heir through a community (joint ownership or joint tenancy) property agreement, right of survivorship, a payable on death (POD) bank account, an "in trust for" account with named beneficiary, other trusts with named beneficiaries, life insurance, retirement accounts [e.g., IRAs, Keoghs, and 401(k)], or annuities are subject to formal probate proceedings. If the decedent dies without a will (intestate), and no beneficiaries are named, the courts will determine the hierarchy of heirs.
A probate lawyer administers the last will and testament written by a client. A probate lawyer also guides heirs through the probate-process in court. Finally, probate attorneys may act as the executor of the will, but this is not always required.
The probate process is the process by which assets are distributed in the U.S. when a person dies with a will. If a person dies with a will, he or she names beneficiaries who will receive his assets. The person writing the will also names an executor to handle the distribution of assets.
When someone with a will dies, the probate process begins. This is the process in which the assets are distributed according to the tenants in the will. A court of law oversees the probate process to ensure that the wishes of the deceased party, also called the decedent, are carried out.