Estate planning is based on legal principles that are followed by all estate planning attorneys. While each state has its own probate code, or set of laws, the Uniform Probate Code was drafted by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL). This set of laws governs inheritance and estate laws in the United States. The original purpose of the Uniform Probate Code was to simplify the process of probating an estate and to make laws governing wills, trusts, and estates more standardized or uniform. The Uniform Probate Code deals, primarily, with the law of wills, intestate succession and donative transfers. It also covers laws relating to gratuitous wealth transfer (gifts).
What does the Uniform Probate Code include?
The Uniform Probate Code is organized into seven distinct “articles” or sections. Article I of the Uniform Probate Code encompasses the general provisions needed to understand the substantive legal provisions in the rest of the code. These provisions include definitions and jurisdictional rules.
Article II addresses wills and intestate succession. Wills are the legal documents that describe how you want your estate to be distributed at your death. “Intestate succession” is the legal process that must be followed if someone dies without a will. Article III of the Uniform Probate Code discusses wills in more depth, including the administration of estates.
Article IV governs the process of probating an estate that happens to be located in a different state from the state where the decedent resides. Article V of the Uniform Probate Code governs protection of disabled individuals and their property. Article VI pertains to transfers of property that are unrelated to probate. Finally, Article VII of the Uniform Probate Code deals with the administration of trusts.
Do all states follow the Uniform Probate Code?
In the United States, our legal system is set up so that both federal and state governments have the independent authority to enact their own laws, as long as those laws comply with U.S. constitutional requirements. The Uniform Probate Code was first drafted in 1969 with the expectation that all 50 states would adopt its provisions. However, the original version was only adopted by sixteen states and California was not one of them.
Currently, approximately one-third of all states have adopted the Uniform Probate Code in some amended form. Even among the jurisdictions that have chosen to adopt the code, most have made significant modifications. It appears, then that the Uniform Probate Code did not achieve its original goal of standardizing probate law in the country.
Are Estate Planning Attorneys knowledgeable about probate law?
All attorneys who consider themselves estate planning attorneys will be familiar with and experienced in probate law. That means they will know the specific legal requirements of the state where they practice, as well as any relevant federal probate or tax laws. That is what makes estate planning attorneys competent to handle not only the drafting of a will or other estate planning tool, but also to handle any complications or disputes that may arise.