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What’s the job of a probate judge?

For those people who are not well-versed about legal procedures, the title probate judge may seem confusing. However, these authorities are decisive when it comes to settling estate issues  [Related topic: Probate attorney]

In a nutshell, probate judges are the ones who decide over contested estate cases, and any contested estate issues will be processed at a probate court. To expand on this, a probate judge is a civil court authority and a state judicial official in charge of overseeing all aspects of the probate court system.

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The probate courts system focuses on issues such as the estates of deceased persons, competency issues and even adoptions in some jurisdictions. Nevertheless, estate matters remain the most common cases heard in probate courts.

In some places, these are called surrogate’s courts and, in fact, they’re not present in all states and counties. In spite of the difference in name, they cover the same legal issues and the judges assigned to oversee these issues often share the same roles and responsibilities.

The role of a probate judge when it comes to the administration of an estate can be very different depending on whether the deceased person left a last will and testament, referred to as dying testate, or if he died intestate, which means that he or she left no will.

A probate judge must fulfil specific duties that will also vary depending upon whether the personal representative of the estate, the heirs-at-law, and the will’s beneficiaries maintain a cordial relationship, and whether a will contest is filed or not.

An heir-at-law is someone who is related closely enough to the decedent whom according to the law would have inherited from him if the decedent had died intestate. If the decedent left a last will and testament and all the parties involved get along well enough there should not be any major disagreements, which means the estate is said to be uncontested. In these cases, the probate judge’s role in the administration of the estate is minimal, and for the most part, he or she will just review and sign the orders as presented to him by an attorney or by the executor of the will.

However, if the decedent left a will and there’s a disagreement or acrimony between the executor, the beneficiaries, the heirs-at-law and/or any of the other involved parties, the probate court judge will have to be much more involved in the proceedings.

In these cases, the judge addresses the challenges made by the heirs-at-law about the validity of the will. The judge might also be called upon to settle other disputes between the executor and the beneficiaries, which can range from perceived problems with how the executor is administering the estate to disagreements among the beneficiaries about how certain estate assets should be handled.