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What is a Probate Judge and What Does a Probate Judge Do?

Signing Orders and Deciding Contested Issues

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A probate judge is the judicial official who is in charge of overseeing all aspects of probate estates in his or her jurisdiction. A probate judge's role in the administration of an estate will vary based upon whether or not the decedent died testate or intestate, whether or not the Personal Representative, heirs at law of the decedent, and the beneficiaries named in the Last Will and Testament get along, and whether or not a will contest is filed.

Duties of a Probate Judge in Testate Estates

Uncontested Estates - If the decedent left a Last Will and Testament and the Personal Representative named in the Last Will and the beneficiaries named in the Last Will as well as the decedent's heirs at law get along, then the probate judge's role in the administration of the probate estate will be minimal. In these situations, the probate judge will simply sign orders presented to him or her by the attorney who has been hired to administer the estate, including orders to open up the estate and appoint the Personal Representative, orders authorizing the sale of estate assets, and orders closing out the estate.

Contested Estates - If the decedent left a Last Will and Testament and the Personal Representative named in the Last Will and/or the beneficiaries named in the Last Will and/or the heirs at law don't get along, then the probate judge will have a significant role in the administration of the probate estate. In these situations, the probate judge will need to address challenges by the heirs at law to the validity of the Last Will and/or qualifications of the Personal Representative, as well settle disputes among the Personal Representative and/or beneficiaries, which can range from perceived problems with how the Personal Representative is administering the estate, to disagreements among the beneficiaries on how certain estate assets should be handled.

Duties of a Probate Judge in Intestate Estates

Uncontested Estates - If the decedent didn't leave a Last Will and Testament, then the probate judge's first order of business will be to select a Personal Representative to administer the estate. If the heirs at law agree on who should serve as Personal Representative, then the probate judge will simply appoint that person or entity. Then, assuming that the heirs at law get along, the probate judge's role in the administration of the probate estate will be minimal. In these situations, the probate judge will simply sign orders presented to him or her by the attorney who has been hired to administer the estate.

Contested Estates - If the decedent didn't leave a Last Will and Testament and the heirs at law don't get along, then the probate judge's first order of business will be to select a Personal Representative from among those who have priority to serve. Once the probate judge chooses the Personal Representative, the probate judge will need to oversee and approve every step of the probate administration.

How to Open a Probate Estate

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