Probate Law Firm

Probate Law Firm

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Probate Law Firm
Probate is the process of settling an estate where the owner has died without leaving a will.  Probate law firms serve an essential function in organizing and facilitating the probate process and preparing the necessary paperwork.  Probate law firms also work with contested estates, either helping claims to be filed by those contesting a will or the division of assets.


What does the probate law firm do?


In most cases, the executor or administrator will seek the assistance of the probate law firm in organizing the probate process.  This will involve giving notice to those named in the will, if such a will is present.  Those named in the will are invited to a hearing where will is read and those that have a claim to the estate have the opportunity to accept both the executor and will as valid.  If both are accepted as valid, the probate law firm will initiate the probate accounting procedure, which divides the estate according to the instructions of the will that has been approved by the heirs and beneficiaries.


What is the function of the probate law firm when the will is challenged?  


Typically, when the will is challenged, the accounting procedure will have to be done in court.  The probate law firm will serve as the representative of the estate or may represent those that are challenging the provisions of the will or terms of the estate division. 


How can a will be challenged?


Wills can be challenged by heirs and non-heirs alike, as long as a legitimate claim can be made.  The court will of course evaluate the strength of a potential claim on its face value and invalidate claims that are clearly fraudulent or meritless.  Challenges to estates can now be proven through DNA testing, which may identify an individual as a legitimate heir.  If more heirs are identified, the will can be challenged on these grounds, ensuring all heirs receive the appropriate division of the estate.


A will can also be challenged if it can be proven that a party had had undue influence on the composition of the will and as such, had an unfair, preferential advantage over the property divided from the estate.  The probate law firm can help you make a case based on the relationship of the executor or heir to the deceased.  On the same vein, you can challenge and have a will invalidated on the grounds of insane delusion, proving that through undue influence or unsound mind, you were slighted or cut out of a legitimate claim when the deceased has no rational reason to do so.  This aspect of probate law recognizes the possibility that the deceased’s mental capacity may have diminished in the time before their death.


No all probate law firms can challenge wills, but most can refer you to an estate lawyer that can handle this legal matter.


What to bring to the initial consultation with the probate law firm


If you have a copy of the will, this is obviously exceptionally helpful for probate law firm services that evaluate or help you challenge a will.  Otherwise, if the probate law firm will be involved in the process of administering the estate at a later time, this information can be provided when it is needed.  For challenges to an estate, be prepared to show any evidence you might have that reflects your relationship with the deceased.  Those that feel they are entitled to a claim based on linage will have to provide some evidence that their claim has merit before any party or court will consent to DNA testing to verify the claim.


Can I avoid the probate process?


There are some ways probate is avoided.  Almost all states allow the estate to pass to the spouse, without probate or legal complications.  Some states extend this right to couples in same sex civil-unions or common law cohabitation.  Check with the probate law firm for information on how this process works in your state.


Living trusts may be enacted with the assistance of the probate law firm.  The firm will maintain the trust, which can be altered by the owner until the day they die, for applicable fees.  The living trust cannot be challenged in court the same way a will can and the process of dispensing with the living trust is private.


Where to look for a probate law firm


This website is a resource for finding a probate law firm.  Use the Find Attorneys function at the top of the page for more information.  Additionally, you may use state and local bar association directories and lawyer referral services to find a probate law firm.  Be aware of the associated costs that accompany using these services.  You may have to pay for the initial consultation with the probate law firm.


Do not use advertising as a factor when making a decision on legal representation.  There are other, far more important factors such as ease of communication, professionalism and experience that will determine if the probate law firm is best for your needs.


Personality & Values


The executor and the probate law firm both have a fiduciary duty to the clients to ensure that they are open, honest and disclose all assets and information about the estate to the heirs.  Failing in this duty to not benefit financially from the arrangement will violate the law and open the law firm to legal action and restitution to the heirs.  This is unlikely to happen but underscores the importance of choosing an established and trusted law firm.


Keeping in constant communication with the probate law firm is essential to preventing delays and mistakes from being made.  Inquire about the communication policy of the probate law firm, include how you will be contacted, who you will need to contact and if there are legal fees for communicating with the probate law firm.  Some law firms will charge for incoming phone calls and emails, so be aware of this possibility.

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