What Does an Estate Planning & Probate Paralegal Do?

What Does an Estate Planning & Probate Paralegal Do?

13 January 2020 By Kate

What Does an Estate Planning & Probate Paralegal Do

Navigating the complex legal process around the dead and dying is a sensitive subject and requires quite a bit of tact and social skills. If not done properly, these cases can escalate into court battles between family members. 

To make the process as painless as possible, many clients will hire a law firm to serve as an objective third party in the handling of their estate affairs. Upon a client’s death, an attorney may be granted trustee status or given instructions on how to carry out their Last Will and Testament. 

While working with probate can be rewarding, it can also be challenging and emotionally taxing. Paralegals work directly with mourning clients and their attorneys to ensure that all of the estate’s needs are met and the process goes as smooth as possible.

Estate Planning Paralegals

Estate planning paralegals help answer the question “what happens to my belongings after I die;” they assist grieving families through any intimidating legal complications that they may be facing. 

These paralegals prepare clients for the worst so they can deliver the best to their immediate family. Estate planning paralegals work within the law to ensure that all final wishes of a client are respected and addressed regardless of the circumstances. 

What Does a Probate Paralegal Do?

A probate & estate planning paralegal’s job description is mainly to resolve a deceased client’s outstanding financial commitments; and liquidate and distribute all of their assets including, but not limited to, bonds, stocks, valuable personal belongings, and real estate. 

A paralegal will need education in the estate planning process, which will give them the tools to navigate the legality of familial inheritance and determine the value of a client’s assets. An estate planning paralegal’s regular duties may include:

  • Conduct research and gather evidence
  • Meet and communicate with client and their family
  • Communicate with other professionals
  • Investigate, collect, and liquidate the deceased’s assets
  • Draft wills, trusts, briefs, memorandums, and other supporting documents
  • File documents and attend Will signings
  • Assess and compromise with creditor claims
  • Work with banks to settle loans
  • Prepare probate documents
  • Arrange the payment of income, gift, estate, and inheritance taxes 
  • Work with appraisers to determine the value of an estate’s belongings
  • Answer any additional questions a client may have

Can Paralegals Do Living Wills?

In order to better prepare for medical issues resulting in incapacitation, there’s a legal need for Living Wills. Living Wills have only been around since the 1990s, but serve a very important role in estate planning and client health. They function as instructions to provide advance healthcare directives to physicians on how to carry out a client’s final, health-related wishes. Living Wills are legally binding and therefore fall under the jurisdiction of lawyers and paralegals.

Prepare for Success

In order to be a great estate planning & probate paralegal, one must have a solid set of skills across all disciplines. The ideal candidate has extensive experience working in estate planning and probate law, but at the moment, there is no official set of educational requirements needed to become a paralegal. Some law firms require a degree or certificate to prove that you know what you’re doing, but the skillset needed for this position involves more than just education.

Communication and People Skills

Probate & estate planning paralegals will work with all types of clients from varying different backgrounds and stages of grief. Probate paralegals may find themselves embroiled in tense familial conflicts or other stressful situations, which is why it’s imperative to always be tactful, thoughtful, and level-headed. They must have exceptional people skills and know-how to sympathize and empathize with grieving clients. Communication is key for the paralegal-client relationship to succeed.

Assistance in Administration 

An effective paralegal must have clerical experience and basic computer knowledge. Proficiency in proprietary legal software is definitely preferred, but an ability to learn new programs is crucial. Daily tasks of a paralegal may include the completion of extensive paperwork from case updates to progress reports.

Unparalleled Attention to Detail

A probate paralegal encounters hundreds of documents and laws on a regular basis, which means they need to have strong attention to detail. One small mistake can have huge consequences, so a paralegal must be sure that everything is accurate and complete including names of beneficiaries, trustees, and representatives; and descriptions of the personal property and assets in question.

Mathematics and Critical Thinking

A probate paralegal must have a basic understanding of mathematics, as they will be calculating asset values, debt interest, and taxes for the estate. They must be able to perform multiplication, addition, subtraction, and division for bookkeeping and tax filing purposes.

Independence and Self Motivation

A paralegal must be independent and self-motivated. Despite working under the purview of an attorney, they often work without direct oversight. Time management, proactive productivity, and office communication skills are all a must.

Enroll at Pioneer Pacific College

Pioneer Pacific College is one of only two colleges in Oregon that offer a Paralegal Studies program that is certified by the American Bar Association. If you have an interest in legal work and want to receive formal estate planning paralegal training, check out our course list and enroll now to earn your paralegal degree!

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