Many clients ask whether they will work with a paralegal through the estate planning process. Not all firms have probate paralegals on staff, but those that do can benefit from their assistance in many ways. Paralegals in general provide many benefits, including improving the one-on-one relationship between the firm and the client. Paralegals are often more accessible than attorneys at times. In many cases, estate planning and probate paralegal assistance go hand in hand.
Initial contact and evaluation of client needs
Paralegals typically assist with the initial client meetings by gathering the information necessary to fulfill the client’s needs. Whether the client needs probate services or estate planning assistance, a paralegal is trained to ask the right questions in order to get the ball rolling. As stated earlier, paralegals oftentimes serve as the liaison between the client and attorney, which helps make communication more efficient.
Assistance with the probate process
Paralegals participate in the interview of probate clients and help to develop and maintain a calendar system, which is critical for keeping up with probate deadlines. It is usually the paralegal who is responsible for notifying the heirs and publishing other notices to interested parties. The paralegal will collect information from the client regarding assets in preparation for creating an inventory and filing tax returns. The paralegal can actually draft the inventory, as well. Evaluating assets at the time of death of the decedent and determining the alternate valuation date, are also tasks for which the paralegal may be responsible.
Probate paralegals are specifically trained to prepare and file all documents required for the administration and closing of the estate. They have experience in interpreting the provisions of wills and handling all aspects of surrendering life insurance and other death benefit claims.
Once the creditors have been notified, the paralegal will typically review the claims submitted by the creditors to determine which are legitimate. The paralegal also maintains the financial records for the estate, verifies bank balances and prepares preliminary tax and cash estimates. They also draft state inheritance tax returns (if necessary) and federal estate tax returns.
Assistance with non-probate related matters
Paralegals are equally trained to collect the required information for any form of estate planning required by a client. The paralegal then uses that information to properly draft wills and trusts, court documents relating to guardianships, conservatorships and other related documents. They can draft trust documents, real and personal property sales documents, powers of attorney and other important estate planning instruments.
A paralegal’s work is always supervised by the attorney
Of course, the estate planning attorney will review all of the work drafted by paralegals. In fact, paralegals are required to work under the supervision of attorneys because they are paraprofessionals. Similar to teaching assistants and physician assistants, paralegals are trained to help attorneys, who have more extensive training than their own, but not without supervision. So, you can rest assured that, if you work with a paralegal, you are in good hands.
If you have questions regarding the paralegal’s role in estate planning, or any other estate planning needs, please contact Wilcox Attorneys, PA online or by calling us at (479) 443-0062.
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