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The Basics of Probate

Probate (end-of-life) Care


Editor's Note: FamilyCare America grants reprint rights for noncommercial use upon the condition that is credited as the source. Send inquiries to David Raine, Editorial Director, FamilyCare America, Inc. Phone (804) 342-1246, or email  From


    Caregivers facing end-of-life situations seldom stop to think about what will happen after the death of a loved one. After a person dies, friends and family members are often responsible for dealing with a variety of difficult issues including finalizing funeral arrangements, notifying insurance agencies and other concerned parties, and overseeing the probate process.  Probate is a legal procedure that finalizes an individual's affairs after his or her death. It includes:

* Proving that the individual's will is valid

* Identifying and inventorying the deceased person's property

* Conducting a property appraisal

* Paying any debts or taxes owed by the estate

* Distributing property according to the provisions set forth in the will

The executor-or an attorney and the executor-can handle the paperwork and court appearances included in probate. Most individuals choose the latter, as probate attorneys make the entire process much simpler. Probate attorneys can be expensive, however, because they often charge a percentage of the overall estate. If you wish to avoid additional estate costs, try to find an attorney who will work for less than the normal fee, or find an executor's handbook that can help you complete the process without an attorney. Generally, the probate process occurs as follows:

* The executor (if the deceased had a will) or court-appointed representative (if the deceased did not have a will) files papers with the probate court.

* The individual proves the validity of the will and gives the court a list of the deceased's property, debts, and estate.

* Relatives and creditors are officially notified of the death.

* During the year it takes for probate to conclude, the executor or representative manages the deceased's assets. 

* Some property passes through probate, including a simple transfer of property to a surviving spouse, and any property held in joint tenancy or a living trust.

As a caregiver you should find out as much as you can about your loved one's estate-and the probate process-before the need to administer a will arises. The death of a loved one is emotionally and physically draining, and the more prepared you are, the easier it will be for all friends and family members involved.

Copyright 2001 FamilyCare America, Inc. All Rights Reserved. For more caregiving information, please visit on the Internet.

What is Elder Law?


Many families face an uphill climb when it comes to making sense of an elderly relative's legal and financial situation. In such instances, enlisting the services of an elder law attorney can be a good idea, because these lawyers deal almost exclusively with advance medical directives, elder abuse and fraud, insurance, and other topics specifically relating to seniors and caregivers. Elder law attorneys have a greater understanding of the specific issues and limitations that seniors-and their families-face every day.

Elder law attorneys specialize in a variety of areas, including:

* Medicaid or Medicare claims and appeals

* Social Security and disability claims and appeals

* Supplemental and long-term health insurance issues

* Disability planning (i.e., durable power of attorney, living trusts, living wills, etc.)

* Conservatorships and guardianships

* Estate planning, including wills, probate, and trusts

* Administration and management of trusts and estates

* Long-term care placement

* Nursing home issues such as patients' rights and nursing home quality

* Elder abuse

* Housing issues (including age discrimination)

* Employment issues (including age discrimination)

* Retirement, including public and private retirement benefits and pension benefits

* Health law

* Mental health law


To find an elder law attorney, try contacting one of the following organizations:

* Alzheimer's Association

* American Association of Retired Persons

* Children of Aging Parents

* Health Insurance Association of America

* National Citizen's Coalition of Nursing Home Reform

* Older Women's League

* Other attorneys

* Social Security Office

* State Civil Liberties Union

* State or Local Bar Association

* Hospital or Nursing Home Social Service Department

When interviewing an elder law attorney, be sure to ask if he or she is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NELF). The CELA certification given by the NELF shows that the attorney has been practicing in the area of elder law for at least five years and maintains an in-depth, working knowledge of elder law. The certification is given only after a comprehensive exam and is not held by many lawyers nationwide. (It should also be noted, however, that the states of Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada and Ohio do not recognize any certificates, including the CELA.)

Copyright 2001, FamilyCare America, Inc. All Rights Reserved. For more care giving information, please visit on the web.