Probate Judge and Lawyer? An Alabama Proposal

In Alabama, the government is currently considering a bill which would require all judges in the state to be licensed probate lawyers. The bill, sponsored by The Mobile Republican, the House Speaker Pro Tempora, and politicians, could ensure that all probate judges were well versed in the law by requiring them to complete all bar exams and law school requirements. According to a probate judge in the state, the bill could be grandfathered for years. This probate judge does not have a law degree and is fearful of his future if the bill somehow passed as a law.

Probate is a somewhat complicated topic, and the laws are intricate. In a probate case, the court must determine how to divide an estate when a decedent dies testate or intestate. Probate cases involve the beneficiaries in the Last Will and Testament and concerns like whether or not a will contest is filed. The wills also depend on whether or not the personal representative, heirs at law and beneficiaries are able to get along with each other. In some cases, the judge will take on the responsibilities of dividing the estate among heirs, a very sensitive job.

Probate cases vary greatly, and certain nuances that apply to one case may be irrelevant to another. Because of this, judges and lawyers involved in this industry need to be very knowledgeable of their field. According to the text in the bill, Alabama judges would have until the 2014 general election before they must have a law degree to continue in their trade. Anyone who wanted to run for probate judge would need to have a law license before the general election in 2018 in order to be eligible for office.

Some politicians are not supportive of the bill, because they believe that it is too much to require probate judges to go through their mandatory training courses and have a law degree. They claim that the mandatory courses are already intense, and that probate judges have the knowledge to govern over cases after they have completed their training. Alabama probate judges are required by the Alabama Probate Judge Association to attend a course which meets two days every three months. One Alabama probate judge claims that he's been attending these courses for eight years now, and feels like they keep him updated on probate issues. He believes that this is plenty of training. Dedicated judges also research outside of the court room to freshen up on their knowledge of the law.

Judges are also concerned of the domino effect of this bill. If it is passed, they believe that the state will only continue to heighten probate judge requirements. By doing this, current judges will lose their jobs and it will be difficult to find replacements that satisfy all of the requirements. Also, many probate judges do not have the time to go back to school for a law degree if they do not have one already.

Probate lawyers must have a law degree to work in Mobile and Jefferson, Alabama. This has proven helpful to the court systems there, which is why a bill was drafted which would affect the entire state. In Alabama, there are 38 probate judges. If it is implicated, then the law could be circulated into other states, depending on whether or not it is helpful. Those who drafted the bill hope to see improvements in the probate court system by using highly informed judges who can determine the best possible way to go about public probate cases.