Probate law is a portion of the larger set of estate laws that cover what happens to a person's assets and obligations when they pass. If there are questions about what happened with a particular estate, such as who should be the executor, the probate system is meant to sort them out.
But when would you run into probate issues? Here is what probate entails, some of the reasons you might encounter the system, and how an attorney would likely address what's happening.
Not a Lawsuit
Litigation is separate from probate. It is certainly possible that problems with an estate or probate could lead to a lawsuit, but that's far from presumed.
A lot of what a probate law office does is about due diligence, and all estates technically go through probate. The administrator of an estate, usually an executor named in the decedent's will, has to follow through on a series of duties. Likewise, they have to report to the probate court that they have done so.
For example, the executor must publish notices to inform anyone who might have an interest in the estate that the executor is currently handling it. The notice should include the name of the deceased and how to contact the executor.
Similar work goes into tracking down beneficiaries and locating assets. The executor finds and contacts the people who will receive assets from the estate. They then have a duty to report contact efforts and outcomes to the probate court. Doing do installs a check in the system to ensure that everybody's rights and interests are protected.
Probate also provides a way to fill some potential gaps left by an estate. If an executor has died since a grantor wrote their will, for example, a probate judge would address the situation. If the will names a successor to the executor, the probate court would contact that person and make sure they can do the job.
If there is no executor, the judge will name a court-appointed officer to serve as the administrator. This person does the same job as the executor, and they usually come from a legal or accounting background.
Sometimes a will doesn't explain things well, overlooks something, or is simply out-of-date relative to the circumstances at the time a person passes away. The probate court makes sense of anything that an executor can't resolve. If parties have concerns or objections at that point, they or their counsel can then ask the judge for a hearing.
Contact a probate law office for more information.