A person making a will is known as a “testator.” When the testator dies, his or her will is “probated.” This process (“probate”) is court-supervised. A judge will confer powers on the “executor” (i.e., the person named in the will to carry out the testator’s desires) to administer the testator’s estate.
The executor’s work is similar to that of the successor trustee of an inter vivos trust (see “Trust Administration” tab); he or she will work to, among other things, transfer property of the estate to the beneficiaries of the testator’s will. (Prior to distributions being made to beneficiaries, the court will seek to ensure the debts, taxes, and other legitimate claims owed by the testator prior to his death are paid from his or her estate.) An attorney can assist executors with this process.
If a person dies without a will, his or her estate will also pass through probate. The intestacy laws (or default rules) will apply, and the court will appoint an administrator to administer the estate.
Mr. Dickinson assists and advises executors and administrators through the probate process. In California, attorney fees are set by law for such work.