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What is Probate and Estate Administration?

Definition of Probate and Estate Administration

Most people own some assets or carry some debt at the time of their death. The assets and liabilities of someone who has passed away from their “estate.” Each state has its own set of laws governing what to do with the estate and how to accommodate the deceased’s estate plan - or lack thereof. The process of closing an estate is overseen by the state’s probate court system. So, lawyers who work with probate laws and estate administration focus on what happens after someone dies, as opposed to estate planning attorneys, who try to put a plan in place before death.

Terms to Know

  • Estate Taxes: Taxes the government levies when a property is transferred after death.
  • Executor: The person who ensures the estate is disposed according to the deceased’s wishes.
  • Administrator: The person charged with disposing of a deceased’s estate if that person died without a will.
  • Testator: The legal term for the person who wrote a will.
  • Intestate: Someone who died intestate died without writing a will.

For more estate planning and administration terms, see FindLaw’s estate planning glossary.

Practice Area Notes

Since estate planning and estate administration are so interrelated, many attorneys who practice estate planning also do estate administration. Estate planning attorneys need to understand how their strategies will impact the estate administration, and administration attorneys need to understand all the various estate planning techniques.

However, estate planning attorneys usually charge a flat fee, which may vary depending on the size and complexity of their client’s assets and family. Estate administration attorneys often charge a percentage of the estate after taxes are removed.

Learn more about state-specific laws on our probate and estate administration legal answers page.

Related Practice Areas

  • Estate Planning: Estate planning attorneys write wills and trusts so that the testator’s assets are properly distributed after death.
  • Tax Law: Estates are taxed heavily. A thorough understanding of tax law is essential to the estate planning process.
  • Elder Law: Estate planning and administration needs change as testators grow older. An elder law attorney knows how changing life circumstances affect estate plans.
  • Real Estate: One of the major assets decedents leave behind is their real estate. Real estate attorneys may be necessary to make the transition go as smoothly as possible.
  • Family Law: Estate administration attorneys need to look at past marriage certificates, divorce decrees, and support orders to understand which family members should inherit.

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