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Probate: What is it, and what is an attorney's role?

The term "probate," being a description for a technical and highly detailed estate administration process, is likely not fully understood by many lay persons.

Indeed, that is similarly true for many lawyers as well, especially attorneys who practice professionally in fields other than estate planning.

'Probate' has been somewhat narrowly construed as a forum/process for resolving questions and issues surrounding a will. Was one executed? Did it satisfy all of a state's particulars for being a valid legal instrument, or was it infirm for lacking something essential, such as a witness, a testator's signature or a sufficient description regarding an inheritance?

Although probate often includes these Will construction issues, it is actually more expansive and comprehensive than that. Indeed, probate in Texas and other states across the country can be broadly construed as encompassing all matters regarding the administration of an estate. That can -- and often does -- include issues regarding guardianships, long-term care planning and a host of other matters.

The probate process generally involves a number of distinct considerations and requirements that must be satisfied. An accurate estate inventory must be undertaken. Any creditors with bona-fide claims need to be paid. Income tax returns must be filed. Bequests to beneficiaries must be examined and acted upon.

These matters are attended to by an estate administrator. Understandably, an administrator's chores can be complex and stressful, with it being further notable that the fiduciary duty imposed on an administrator holds that person to the highest legal standard of care.

An attorney who specializes in estate planning and estate administration will help the administrator through all phases of the process.

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