A probate attorney is a state licensed legal professional who represents an executor–also called a personal representative–or beneficiaries of an estate and advises them about the process of settling all the final affairs of an individual who has passed away. Such lawyers usually have extensive experience in probate and family law and typically specialize in these areas. Such lawyers take executors through each step of the probate process, which in most cases makes the estate settlement much easier for that person. You may be wondering do I really need a probate lawyer? The answer depends on your personal situation. However, hiring an attorney to help settle an estate will certainly make the process a bit less daunting.
Each step involved in probating an estate depends on the probate and real estate laws in the state where the deceased individual lived. It will also depend on whether the decedent died testate–with a valid last will and testament in place–or intestate, which means he or she died without such documents.
The Role of a Probate Lawyer
The probate lawyer can advise the beneficiary or executor on multiple issues. In many cases, one person is both the executor and the beneficiary; however, sometimes the beneficiary is not named as the personal representative. In some instances, the beneficiary does not even know the executor or is not on friendly terms with that person. If the two are unable or unwilling to work together, the estate may become tied up in court.
Fortunately, there are probate lawyers who specialize in representing beneficiaries and executors of an estate who find themselves involved in separate lawsuits relating to the settlement. Additionally, someone who was not named a beneficiary may challenge the validity of the last will and testament. This is called a will contest and lawyers who handle such cases are often referred to as probate litigators, estate litigators, or trust litigators.
Benefits of Legal Assistance
When representing the executor of an estate, a probate attorney will assist and advise in a variety of areas. For example, if you are the executor of an estate and you do not understand tax law, the probate attorney can determine for you if any inheritance taxes or state taxes will be due, and find out when money will be available to pay taxes. In certain cases, money can be released in an expeditious manner if property taxes are due at the time of the deceased’s death.
The probate lawyer will also balance the estate checkbook if you so desire. In addition, such attorneys offer advice on the payment of the decedent’s outstanding debts and final bills. Most probate attorneys obtain what is called “date of death appraisals” of the entire deceased person’s property, as well. This can be a challenging task if you do not have a lawyer handling the process.
Preparing and filing all documents necessary for probate hearings in an efficient and timely manner is important. This task is often overwhelming for those who are not familiar with estate laws and regulations. Another task you may find a bit daunting is making appropriate decisions regarding 401(k)s, retirement plans and IRAs. However, should you choose to hire a probate lawyer, he or she will handle this matter for you as well.
If you have inherited a home or other real estate, an attorney can handle the retitling of such property into your name. A lawyer can also handle the sale of property if it has not been willed to an heir or if you are simply the executor and not a beneficiary.
Although hiring a probate lawyer is not a requirement in order to settle an estate, many people feel more comfortable when the aforementioned tasks are placed in the hands of a legal professional. If you feel you have taken on more than you can handle in an attempt to settle the estate of a decedent, your best course of action is to contact a qualified attorney.
The content provided herein is intended for informational purposes only. It should not be construed as legal advice. If the issues discussed in this blog are of concern to you or your loved ones, please seek the counsel of a qualified attorney.