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A probate paralegal works in a law firm or for a lawyer who represents clients going through the probate process. The probate process is the formal legal process that occurs when an individual dies with a will and testament dictating his final wishes for the distribution of his assets. A probate paralegal helps a probate attorney prepare for a legal case in court relating to the probate of a will.
The probate process generally involves several steps, although the exact process varies among jurisdictions. Normally, the will is first presented to the court, which determines its validity under the law. The executor of the estate is then formally recognized by the court and creditors have an opportunity to come forward and make claims on the estate. After creditors have been paid, the executor of the estate distributes the assets according to the direction provided in the will. The court then affirms the distribution of assets, assesses any taxes due and certifies the probate process complete.
At any stage in the probate process, legal questions or issues can arise. For example, heirs or other family members who were left out of the will can contest the validity of the will, claiming it is not proper or that the deceased did not have the capacity to create the will due to mental incapacitation or some other hindrance. Family members can also claim that the will is forged or is not the latest copy of the will.
There may be disputes in regards to whether creditors have a right to certain assets. There may also be disagreement about the meaning of the will or which assets the deceased truly intended to go to which heirs. The language of the will may need interpretation. There may also be disputes regarding the value of assets and the estate taxes assessed.
A probate attorney may be called in to represent the heirs or the family members contesting the will. The probate paralegal then works with the probate attorney to do the legal research necessary to support the client's claims. For example, if the client is contesting the will, the probate paralegal will do the research and investigative work to help the attorney make a legally sufficient argument that the will is invalid.
Generally, a probate paralegal spends much of his time doing research in law books or online databases that contain case law, statutes or other legal regulations on how a will is to be read or interpreted. The probate paralegal may also do investigative work to determine whether the will was valid, working with a private investigator. The probate paralegal then compiles and presents his findings to to the probate attorney who uses that information to make legal arguments and represent the client in court.
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