Probate is the court proceeding that takes place to settle a deceased person's outstanding debts and the dispersal of the deceased's assets. The rules regarding these proceedings vary from state to state and are often so technical that they require legal advice from a probate lawyer. Probate lawyers specialize in the planning and settlement of estates. This can be done either when the person is alive or after he or she dies. The probate lawyer drafts wills and the required legal documents that deal with inheritance.
Generally, most probate cases run smoothly. The probate process begins with the filing of the decedent's, or the deceased's, will in the probate court, also known as the surrogate court. It must be in the county where the decedent resided. The executor files the will and also a request for admittance of the will to probate. The court usually approves the will and the executor must publish notice of the probate in a local newspaper so that anyone that may have an interest in the decedent's estate is aware. It is at this point that creditors file claims for payment.
Probate Lawyer's Role
Probate lawyers assist in the creation and validation of a will and help create an organized inventory of the decedent's assets and liabilities. They settle all outstanding debts and taxes, and verify who has entitlement to the estate and the assets and represent the client in court. To perform these duties, the individual must complete a pre-law degree and then advance into law school. In law school, the candidate must take some on the job training with a probate law firm in addition to the academic courses. Upon completion of law schoo, the applicant must take a bar examination to get a license to practice law. Some states may require probate lawyers to also pass an ethics examination.
Probate Lawyer Salary
The Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS, does not have a separate category for probate lawyers. It lumps them into its "Lawyer" category. The BLS found that for all waged and salaried lawyers in 2008, the median salary was $110,590 per year. Salary Expert provides an annual average figure for probate lawyers in May 2011 of about $100,000. Exam Materials.com states that factors such as where the location of employment, the lawyer's firm and the lawyer's years of experience help determine they lawyer's salary.
Top Paying Cities and States
Salary Expert discovered that in May 2011 the city of New York had the highest average salary for probate lawyers with average annual earnings of $190,328. Los Angeles is second with a figure of $177,714, and Dallas, Texas third at $169,557. According to PayScale.com in its May 2011 survey of 11,931 lawyers, California topped the list with salaries ranging up to $120,972 per year. New York State followed with salaries ranging up to $118,108 and Texas with annual salaries up to $112,221. The PayScale survey of state salaries did not differentiate between lawyer specialties.