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Survey Reveals Courts Fail to Offer Basic Information on Probate

  • April 7th, 2006

Probate -- the process of proving that a will is valid and of settling an estate -- is among the most common legal procedures in the United States. Yet the overwhelming majority of state courts fail to offer consumers basic online information and resources about probate, according to a survey conducted by HALT, a nonpartisan legal reform organization.

In HALT's evaluation of state probate Web resources, 29 states received a grade of "F" because they offer no or minimal information about settling an estate, leaving consumers with little choice but to hire an attorney.

"Consumers handle many legal tasks online -- from filing taxes, to writing wills, to conducting business transactions," said HALT Program Director Theresa Meehan Rudy. "They should also be able to handle routine probate matters online, but far too many courts fail to post the information they need."

HALT's survey shows that only a handful of states support consumers who want to tackle probate with excellent probate guides and fill-in-the-blank forms online.

New Hampshire scored highest in the survey with a solid "A" because its state court Web site offers detailed information about the probate process, links to local probate courts, provides timelines and checklists for executors and is the only state to provide step-by-step instructions for completing their forms online.

Tying for second place with an "A-" were Connecticut, Vermont, and Washington, D.C. While none provides the step-by-step instruction for filling in their forms that New Hampshire provides, all offer very good information. Washington, for example, features two excellent guides, When Someone Dies and Small Estate Proceedings with step-by-step instructions for administering and settling an estate, links to necessary forms, a glossary of legal terms, and a list of helpful contacts and resources.

For more on the "National Probate Web Site Survey" and to see how your state fared, click here.

HALT also offers a "Survey of Small Estate Nonprobate Procedures."

For more about probate from ElderLawAnswers, click here.

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Ron M. Landsman, P.A.
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Hale Ball Carlson Baumgartner Murphy PLC
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Needham Mitnick & Pollack, PLC
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Last Modified: 04/07/2006

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