How to set up your probate case file

by Boyd Johnson on September 21, 2009

Probate cases can be complex and extend over a long period of time, so keeping an organized case file is a must.

Over the years, I’ve refined my case file system in a way that works for me and our staff and helps keep things organized and on track. When a new case is opened, I want a physical case file that is set up in the same way as my other cases so that I can quickly find things I need. At minimum, I have the following folders created and placed in an accordion file folder:

  • Probate Filings. On the left, inside flap I keep a checklist of deadlines of the various stages of the probate and key facts about the probate, such as the estate’s name, the date of death, the venue (county), the court file number, whether the probate is testate/intestate, formal/informal, and the PR’s name, address, phone number, and relation to the decedent. On the right side I keep copies of documents filed with the court and sent to interested parties, such as a copy of the Will, the petition/application, notices, the inventory, the final account, and the statement to close
  • Attorney Notes. Notes and research items.
  • Correspondence. Letters and important emails. Copies of enclosures and attachments are also kept here.
  • Initial Documents. There is probably a better name for this, but I use it for things like the death certificate and miscellaneous documents a client may give me at the first office conference. I usually keep our client intake questionnaire here too.
  • Inventory/Final Account. I keep the finalized Inventory and Final Account in the Probate Filings folder, but I store statements, appraisals, and other miscellaneous documents used to draft them here. This folder is often broken down into multiple folders for estates with a number of assets and expenses.
  • Real Estate. Because there is usually a lot of paperwork associated with real estate, I keep a separate folder for this asset category. I include purchase agreements, appraisals, deeds, and closing documents in it. If there is more than one piece of property, I may keep separate folders for each parcel.
  • Bank Account. We often help clients establish the estate’s checking account. Forms related to this are kept here as well as statements, and perhaps the checkbook ledger and checkbook.
  • Creditors Claims. As claims come in, I make a list of the claims and keep it on the left-hand side along with deadlines. Supporting documents are kept on the right-hand side.
  • Originals. All original documents go here, such as certified copies and originals of documents served, but not filed with the court (e.g. inventory).
  • Tax. At minimum, I keep copies of Form SS-4 and the tax identification number here. If our firm is preparing the estate’s income tax returns, I keep information here until I’m ready to work on it . If we are doing an estate tax return, I open an entirely new file because of the volume of information that I’ll acquire.

Finally, if there is something that is urgent that I’m working on, I keep relevant notes and documents in a bright red folder that I drop down in the file folder. This makes it easy to grab, especially when you’ve left someone a message and they are returning your phone call.

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