The death of a loved one is never easy. In addition to the obvious emotional toll, a death has financial effects, some of which are felt immediately, and some of which may not become known for several months or years. A well-crafted estate plan can anticipate these effects, and minimize or eliminate them altogether. The primary task of the probate attorney, therefore, is to carry the estate plan into effect and minimize the financial consequences of death to the greatest extent possible.
It is also important that the probate process be initiated and completed in a timely fashion. Often, family members do not bother to administer the estate of a deceased family member at all, simply reasoning that the property passes to a surviving spouse. Later, upon the death of the spouse, those same family members attempt to sell property, only to discover that they cannot do so due to a break in the chain of title. Then, they must go back and attempt to perform the administration of two estates; depending on the lapse of time, performing the administration of the earlier estate may be difficult if not impossible, and in any event may be both more time consuming and more expensive than if it had been done properly in a timely fashion.
Lastly, it falls to the probate attorney to discover any errors in the estate plan, and determine whether and how the effects of these errors may be reduced.
Through it all, the probate attorney must never lose sight of the fact that, in a very real way, he is there to help ease the suffering of those left behind. Probate law touches us all at the very core of what it means to be human -- the knowledge and realization of our own mortality. The probate attorney must therefore balance the requirements of the law with the practical requirements of his clients, along with a good measure of human compassion.
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Every probate case is unique, and to a large extent the estate plan (if any) used by the decedent will dictate the procedures that must be employed. The lack of an estate plan, or the use of a poor estate plan, will often force a probate attorney to use less efficient procedures than would be necessary if the decedent had a comprehensive estate plan. In addition, unfolding circumstances may suggest opportunities for correction or improvement. As always, the best way to learn of such opportunities is through consultation and representation by qualified probate counsel.
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