What is a Probate Lawyer?
A probate lawyer helps clients go through the probate process. This is the process by which an estate is managed and distributed after death. Probate is a legal process that may be as simple as the court validating a will and making the named executor official. It can also be complicated with big estates or when there is no will.
A lawyer specializing in probate usually works with the executor or administrator of an estate. They can also take on clients for estate planning, drafting a will, setting up trusts, and making other legal plans for their estate upon their death.
What Does a Probate Lawyer Do?
The probate lawyer’s role in the process depends on the client, the estate, and whether there is a will. When working as the lawyer for the executor or administrator, they may provide any of these services:
- Petitioning the probate court and filing the will and other necessary paperwork
- Engaging with the court to get permission for certain actions under the state’s laws
- Inventorying and identifying all the assets of an estate
- Finding and protecting assets as needed
- Appraising and assigning value to the estate
- Assisting with sales of assets if necessary
- Finding and notifying the beneficiaries listed in a will or on life insurance policies and retirement accounts
- Retitling property to beneficiaries
- Helping settle taxes and debt for the estate
- Distributing assets that remain after taxes and debts have been paid
- Negotiate and settle disputes between the beneficiaries and executor
Clients may also hire a probate attorney for their estate planning. In this case, the lawyer may establish trusts, draft a will, assign beneficiaries, and strategize to minimize probate and estate taxes.
Beneficiaries may hire probate lawyers but usually only if there is an issue. Someone may challenge a will, for instance, leading to litigation. The beneficiary named in the will needs a probate lawyer to fight back against the challenge.
Do I Need a Probate Lawyer?
Probate can be a simple and easy process if the deceased had a clear will and when estates are small, and there are no minor children involved. It’s possible to get away without a probate lawyer in these situations, but it’s never a bad idea to get advice.
For many people, probate is complicated enough that hiring a lawyer is a smart move. If you’re not sure you need one, at least talk to a lawyer for some initial advice and guidance. Hire a probate lawyer if you have these situations or complicating factors:
- The estate has assets that must pass through probate, for instance, any assets not in a living trust or with named beneficiaries, like a life insurance policy.
- The estate is large enough that it does not qualify for summary probate or other simple probate procedures as outlined by state law.
- The probate process is particularly complex in your state.
- There are conflicts between the beneficiaries and executor, especially if they historically do not get along.
- The estate includes businesses.
- The estate has high levels of debt and taxes owed.
The Benefits of Working with a Probate Lawyer
As the executor of a will or personal representative of an estate, you have the choice to hire a probate lawyer. It is not a requirement. However, there are several important benefits to you, the estate, and the beneficiaries of working with a legal probate expert:
- Space to grieve
The representative or executor is often a family member of the deceased. If you face responsibility for probate of a loved one’s estate, it can be tough to focus on the details. A probate lawyer provides the guidance and assistance you need to make this an easier process and leave you time and space to grieve.
- Protection for beneficiaries
A death that leaves a valuable estate tends to bring out the worst in some people. You may find distant relatives or friends coming forward to claim a right to assets. A probate lawyer protects the beneficiaries and the will of the deceased.
- Conflict resolution
Probate involves family, often bringing together people who rarely see each other or do not get along. A lawyer is a useful neutral third party who can handle interpersonal conflicts while guiding the estate through probate.
- A faster process
Probate can get lengthy and complicated, depending on the estate and will. For the grieving family, getting through it as quickly as possible is ideal. A probate lawyer can handle the details, do the leg work, and get everything done much faster than the family can do without this assistance.
How to Choose a Probate Lawyer
The probate lawyer you hire should specialize in this area of the law. They must understand the state laws that govern probate and stay up to date on changing policies that affect the process. Only work with lawyers or firms that have expertise and experience with probate.
You can find probate lawyers by searching online, but many people you know may have worked with a probate lawyer they trust. Get referrals and then choose the lawyer you feel best fits your needs. Ask about their experience, how they view your situation, how they would proceed, and if they foresee any issues. Also, talk about fees before you hire any lawyer.
Working with Your Probate Lawyer
The lawyer you hire will tell you what they need, so round up all the documents and information they request. This may include the will, deeds to property, insurance policies, retirement and pension account information, tax returns, contact information for beneficiaries, and more. Your lawyer can only do the job well if you provide everything they need.
They will also need you to be on time for meetings and any court hearings that are necessary. Ask questions throughout the process and listen to your lawyer’s advice so you can make informed decisions along the way. Stay involved in the process and on top of any issues that arise.
When you work as a partner with your probate lawyer, you will have a better outcome. The process will go more smoothly and end sooner with an expert in probate to guide you and your loved ones.