Estate Matters: How to Become a Probate Attorney

Written by
Rebecca Smith

Published
Dec 13, 2018

Dec 13, 2018 • by Rebecca Smith

Becoming a lawyer is such a popular career move that for a while, people warned of a "lawyer bubble." However, even though new lawyers enter the market every year, it's still one of the best careers for job stability.

In fact, as modern life becomes more complex thanks to new technology, there may be a greater need for lawyers than ever before. One type of lawyer that's always in demand is a probate lawyer.

If you love the law, are great at making decisions, and work well with people, this might be the right career path for you. Wondering how to become successful at probate? This guide will clear things up -- keep reading for what you need to know.

What is a Probate Lawyer?

Lawyers dealing with probate are sometimes also called estate lawyers.

These lawyers get licensed by their state to help settle the estate of someone who's passed away. They'll work closely with the executor, or personal representative, who was named in a will, as well as the estate beneficiaries.

These lawyers help the family of the deceased work through the probate process. The probate process means the process of carrying out the wishes in someone's will. This process is different in different states, depending on the laws. That's why it's so important for a probate lawyer to get licensed in their state, where they know the laws inside and out.

However, if the will also covers items owned by the person in another state, like real estate, the lawyer will need to know how to handle those too. You'll need a wide range of legal knowledge, and the ability to find new information as you need it.

Sometimes, you'll work with a will that turns out not to be valid. In this case, you will also need to use your state's intestate laws, which kick in in the absence of a legal will. 

How to Become a Probate Lawyer

Does probate law sound like the right field for you? Let's take a look at the steps to take to become a probate lawyer.

Personality

First, you'll need to have a certain kind of personality to work well in this field. While anyone can technically become an estate lawyer, not everyone will thrive in this job.

First, you should be able to work independently and meet deadlines without any oversight. Even if you work in a law firm, it's important to be a self-starter. It's very important to stay on top of tasks and deadlines. 

You should also be able to work well with people, while also persuading them effectively when you need to. As an estate lawyer, you're working with people at a particularly sensitive time. You're dealing with a family who has just lost a member. Many different issues and dramas in the family can play out at this time, and you'll be helping them navigate the situation.

It's important to be patient and professional with your clients. Their moods might run high, but you have to have a calm demeanor. But you'll also need to be able to convince your clients of the right course of action. 

Finally, you need to be able to handle long hours and work that can feel tedious. There's a lot of research, paperwork, and client meetings that can feel repetitive. 

Education

If you're the right fit for the job, the next step is to get your education.

First, you'll need a bachelor's degree. This degree can have any major, but you'll get more use out of it if you focus on business classes. The more you understand about business and finance, the easier it is to become a probate lawyer.

Once you have your undergraduate degree, it's time for law school. You'll need to prepare for the LSAT, which is a legal version of the SAT. Law school typically takes at least three years. You'll also need to prep for the bar exam after you graduate. 

Some people also supplement their education with hands-on experiences, like internships. However, make sure you don't plan to do internships and law school at the same time. The law school workload may not allow for that.

Career

After you graduate and pass the bar, you're ready to start your probate law career. You might start as an intern, apply to law firms, or even strike out on your own. However, it's usually best to start out at a law firm so you can gain experience and clients.

During your career, you'll learn the value of networking with other lawyers. If you network well, you'll get benefits like client referrals from the community. 

Things to Know About Probate Law

Wondering how the probate process will look in your daily life on the job? Let's take a closer look at the steps you'll follow with every client.

First, notice of the probate process is given to the beneficiaries of the will. There's usually a court hearing, so any objections can be made.

Next, the executor of the estate sends written information to the estate's creditors, so they can make a claim on assets in the estate. The executor is also responsible for building a detailed list of everything in the estate.

What's in the estate then gets used to pay any funeral expenses, taxes, or debts left by the deceased. Items in the estate can get sold for this purpose if needed.

Finally, the legal titles of estate property get transferred to the proper beneficiaries. You'll help the executor and the beneficiaries with this entire process, and any issues that come up.

Ready to Start On the Path?

Becoming a probate lawyer isn't for everyone. But for those who are a good fit for the job, this can be an interesting and rewarding career.

Sometimes, you'll find even more career success if you relocate to a place that's in need of more estate lawyers. Check out our guide to relocating for work here.