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Richard Wellman and the Reform of American Probate Law, 40 Georgia Law Review 1093 (2006)


Richard Wellman was a national treasure. He was our most

knowledgeable and influential authority on probate procedure, that

is, on the processes for administering decedents' estates.

By the middle decades of the twentieth century, when Wellman's

career took shape, many American probate courts were a disgrace.

Their rules, mostly embodied in state statutes, required court

supervision of the most routine steps in the work of winding up the

estate, paying the creditors, and transferring the remaining

property to the heirs or devisees. Lawyers, probate judges, and

court functionaries prospered doing makework at the expense of

widows and orphans and charities.

Wellman devoted his life to cleaning up American probate. He

worked mainly through the Uniform Law Commission, which in the

mid-1960s chose him to be the Reporter and chief architect for a

reformed probate system, now known as the Uniform Probate Code

(UPC). Wellman led a team of able co-Reporters, including William

F. Fratcher, Edward C. Halbach, Jr., and Eugene F. Scoles. The

Uniform Law Commission promulgated the Code in 1969.

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