Caitlyn Ashley can tell you anything about probate. In her time with Leigh Hilton PLLC, she has represented dozens of clients who either have a will, needs a will, or don’t even know what to do with their loved one’s will and what probate is. Luckily for them, most of Caitlyn’s knowledge and guidance also stems from the fact she was once a client.
That’s right—beyond her education and the hard work she’s put in trying to be an expert in her craft, Caitlyn has been in your shoes and knows first-hand how emotional and complex your family’s life has become.
“I’m young, so people might think at first that I don’t know what they’re going through,” Caitlyn said. “But I’ve been through it, and I have a lot to share. My favorite part of my job is easing their mind and educating them as much as possible.”
Earlier this year, we highlighted Caitlyn’s story, where she opened up about her father’s sudden passing shortly before her high school graduation. For those who read it, the article helped put a human face on the struggles we all face when a loved one dies and let them know they have a friend in the legal world who can empathize. This is particularly important when it comes to making sense of wills and having a helping hand in the probate process.
What is probate?
Probate is the legal process of administering an estate and resolving all claims to assets and property. It is often dictated by a valid will but also applies when a person dies without one. The process involves validating a will and interpreting the intent and instructions contained in it.
Unfortunately, probate can be a confusing, drawn-out, and emotional process for everyone involved. Caitlyn was lucky because her dad left behind a detailed will and named her mother as the executor over her affairs until she turned 25. But that didn’t mean they were excluded from having to go through probate.
They still had to go to court, prove they were family, and have the will validated. Granted, it was much easier than if there wasn’t a will, but it was still a process that at the time they knew little about.
“It wasn’t easy, by any means,” Caitlyn recalled. “Having gone through that, though, has put me in a position where I can help people who need someone to turn to for advice. Something bad has happened to them, but I’m here to let them know that it’s all going to be worked out.”
A will isn’t good on its own
As you were reading this, you might have wondered why Caitlyn and her mother had to go through probate in the first place since a detailed will was left behind. Shouldn’t they have been able to skip it altogether? Well, not exactly. It’s one thing if you’re the joint owner of a bank account that you can gain access to anytime you need, it’s something completely different when you’re dealing with various assets and property such as houses or vehicles. Probate involves not only the distribution of an estate but also resolving any creditor claims and assigning of an executor or administrator.
The process works on behalf of heirs and other parties who may have claims against the estate and is different for everyone. Caitlyn sees the confusion that comes with it every day.
“That’s the biggest misconception—that if you have a will, you don’t have to do anything,” Caitlyn said. “I had a lady recently whose husband had just passed away. They both owned 50% of their home, and she kept saying that he willed the house to her and that she didn’t have to do anything. She didn’t realize that she still needed to take action, especially if she wanted to sell that house someday.”
She added, “A will isn’t good on its own. A court must say it’s an original, valid will.”
Living out her dream as a probate attorney
Before joining Leigh’s team, Caitlyn graduated from Texas A&M University School of Law, where she worked as part of the famed Innocence Project—an organization helping to exonerate wrongfully convicted individuals. She also served as Director of Communications for State Representative Poncho Nevarez, and as an extern for the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office.
Now, Caitlyn is living her dream. She’s happy to be focusing on probate law — a topic close to her heart.
“People think probate is boring, but it’s not,” she said with a smile. “We see all kinds of families with all kinds of wills and all kinds of people who die without wills. In a very short time, I’ve seen a wide array, and everyone is different. The key is that we don’t push or sell. We want to sit down and figure out what people need. There are so many factors involved, so let’s just look at your situation and see what will work best for you.”