How do you estate lawyers know when their clients die?

Say I hire a lawyer to draw up my will. Tomorrow, out of the blue, I die.

How will she/he find out about it so that they can mete out my property?

(Forgive me if this is a dumb question.)

When the client’s heart stops beating, the implanted microchip alerts the lawyer.

If that malfunctions, presumably the client is going to have some sort of information in his or her personal files indicating who the estate lawyer is. Since wills don’t have to be housed with the lawyer, it’s more likely that the will itself will be found among the deceased’s papers. The estate lawyer doesn’t dole out the property anyway; the executor of the estate does. That could be the lawyer, but in most instances it’s probably going to be someone like a surviving spouse or offspring (my father was executor for his mother’s estate; my brother will be executor for his and my mother’s).

If you die unexpectedly and alone (the thought of that will give me the willies all night), the good people from your local coroner’s office will check around dutifully for next of kin and look for financial information and papers that can help sort out your estate.

A lawyer writes your will, you pay your bill, and you are given a copy of the will,

Once that tranaction is completed, the lawyer is finished and out of the picture.

It is up to you to place your will in a location that next of kin, friends, or whoever you designate can find it.

You will is then filed with Surrogate court. If it is not contested, your named executor in the will will dispurse your estate accordingly. If it is contested, the will goes to probate.

Estate attorneys mostly deal with people before they die in order to insure all the proper paperwork is in place so when you do croak, things go smoothly.

Many people think a lawyer is in charge of your will when you die. This is 99.9% of the time not the case.

Yeah, British murder mystery novels have heavily distorted popular perception of how these situations work in real life. “You mean my trusted solicitor won’t take my will out of his old-fashioned deed-box, call my family together in the drawing-room of the country house after the funeral, and put on his pince-nez for the formal reading of the will?”

That’s how I see it happening, at any rate. :slight_smile:

Really? Am I the only one left who has named a trust company as my executor? They tend to be stocked with lawyers who I presume do all the executing. All my contact with the trust company has thus far been with lawyers; I’d be pretty upset if they’re planning on handing off executor duties to their office cleaning staff once I die.

Well, I suppose you could have a note in your will saying you wish it to be executed in that fashion :smiley:

I think you’ve missed furnishesq’s point. In most jurisdictions, you do not need to have a lawyer involved because it is your executor who settles the estate. Your comment is that your executor is a lawyer. That doesn’t change the point: it is not a lawyer qua lawyer who is settling your estate, it is a lawyer qua executor.

Of course, the executor can hire a lawyer to handle the paperwork and court appearances. The need for a probate lawyer varies with the complexity of the estate and the jurisdiction. Even when a laywer represents the executor, though, the executor is still responsible for settling the estate. If a lawyer is retained, it is often the heirs or the executor who contact the lawyer (my father does probate law, among other kinds). The living can usually find the lawyer who prepared the estate planning documents because the documents tend to have the preparer’s name all over them. So the estate planning lawyer may well get the first call from the dead person’s family. Many estate planning lawyers also do probate work (as my father does), and wind up representing the executor. BTW, an executor is also commonly called a personal representative.

I would respectfully disagree, Campion. It sounds like his executor is the trust company. The trust company may have a lawyer on staff who will carry out the trust company’s duties as executor, but that staff lawyer is not his executor.

At what point does he reveal which one of them murdered you?


I don’t think we’re disagreeing; the artificial person who is the executor is the trust company, acting through a natural person who is a lawyer. Doesn’t change the bottom line: you do not need to appoint a lawyer to settle your estate. As Gfactor points out, lots of people use the assistance of lawyers, but there is in general no legal requirement that the executor be an attorney.

There is at least one county here in Michigan where it is essentially impossible for a layperson to probate an estate without a lawyer. I don’t mean to say that a lawyer is legally required. But in that county the probate process is complicated by several undocumented (I have suggested that they are illegal) requirements, which make it impossible to navigate the process unless you are an insider. Even attorneys who are new to the county have problems.

In other jurisdictions, all of the forms contain signature blanks for attorneys, and the local legal mythology (i.e., the court clerks) says that a lawyer is required.

Also, sometimes the executor lives far from the jurisdiction where the will is probated. When that happens, a lawyer can be very helpful.


Since this question is about lawyers, it will obviously degrade to the level of the Pit.


What are you, high? Lawyers belong in Great Debates.

Um, I don’t know why this got moved to the Pit. Seems inappropriate…

Thanks for the answers, ya’ll. It was a question that’s been bugging me for awhile.

“British murder mystery?”

Cafe Society, obviously.

Hey, what day is it?

20-10, SkipMagic’s serve.

TubaDiva, you need to drink your coffee more slowly. This is about the death of a lawyer’s clients, and how lawyers react, so it’s clearly IMHO. I’m really sorry to overrule you on this one, we don’t do that as a rule, but this is egregious.

Nope, we usually put death notices in MPSIMS, so it goes THERE.