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What is a Probate Lawyer and when do you need one?

By James

A probate lawyer is a licensed attorney who has years of education, experienced, mentoring and understanding to advise the relatives of a deceased person, known as the decedent, to settle all the final affairs of their estate. The beneficiaries of the estate, known as the executors, need legal guidance and help from the probate lawyer in order to ensure that the affairs are handled in accordance with how the decedent wanted them to be handled.

What are the responsibilities of a Probate Lawyer?

The probate lawyer is responsible to guide the estate representative through the entire probate process from start to finish. Also referred to as the estate attorney or estate lawyer, the probate lawyer may be hired by the family of the deceased to advise them on how to handle the legal affairs of the estate. The lawyer will also guide the beneficiary on other matters presented by the personal Representative throughout the course of the probate process. This usually happens when the beneficiary does not get along very well with the personal representative, or if the beneficiary is not old enough to understand the legal complexities of the estate.

Apart from guiding the estate representative and creating the last will and testament, the probate lawyer has other responsibilities as well. These include assisting with trust planning as well as with powers of attorney and medical powers of attorney. The probate lawyer will also help with asset protection as well as preparing and filing of all the documents to the probate court. The probate lawyer will also sort any tax issues. Many people fail to understand the importance of hiring a tax lawyer and will end up losing money in the long run.

When to hire a probate lawyer?

Most people don’t think about contacting an estate or probate lawyer until it is too late, which is when the person passes away. However, if you are concerned about what you’ll leave behind after your death, and how your loved ones should manage your estate, you need to get in touch with as estate lawyer yourself. Many wicked disputes may arise after your demise, and in order to avoid all that, it is better to contact an estate lawyer. The lawyer you choose while you have time will best represent your personal interests. You can also work with the lawyer and share your concerns with them openly, so everything is planned as you want it to be.

Having a will in place will ensure that your loved ones experience minimal distress after you pass away. Many people shy away from the idea of discussing how their estate will be managed after their passing. However, it is one of the best things you can do for your loved ones while you are alive.

What are the steps involved in probating an estate?

The steps involved in probating an estate depend upon the probate laws of the state where the decedent owned real estate, as well as the state where the decedent was residing at the time of death. The value of the decedent’s probate estate may also define how the probate process will proceed, as well as how long the decedent has been dead. Moreover, factors like whether the decedent died with a valid last will and testament, legally referred to as testate, or without a valid last will or testament, legally referred to as intestate, also define the steps required in the estate process. A good and experienced probate attorney will be familiar with all these legal terms as well as the probate laws of all the states involved in the probate process.

When would you need a probate litigator?

Estate litigators, trust litigators, or probate litigators, are probate lawyers who specialize in representing beneficiaries and personal representatives of an estate who may be involved in separate lawsuits related to the decedent’s estate. An estate litigator may also prove beneficial in case of a will contest, when a beneficiary challenges the validity of the decadent’s last will or testament.

How can a Probate lawyer assist a Personal Representative?

The duty of the probate lawyer is to assist the personal representative of the estate in legal matters such as:

  • Identifying, locating and securing both probate assets as well as non-probate assets
  • Obtaining values of all the decadent’s properties and getting appraisals
  • Preparing and filing all the necessary documents as required by the probate court in a timely manner
  • Collecting life insurance proceeds of the decadent
  • Taking appropriate measures with regards to retirement plans, including 401(k)s and IRAs
  • Providing advice on the payment of any outstanding debts or final bills of the decedent
  • Tracking the estate’s checking account
  • Determining if any estate taxes will be due at time of inheritance and arranging cash for payment of those taxes
  • Resolving any income tax issues
  • Settling any disputes along the beneficiaries and personal representatives
  • Assisting with the sale of any estate property
  • Getting permission from the court for various actions that are required under probate laws
  • Changing title of the decedent’s real estate into the names of the estate beneficiaries
  • Distributing any assets of the decedent among the beneficiaries which are left after paying taxes and bills

Get help from an experienced lawyer

As you wind up an estate, you will need help from an experienced lawyer. This is especially true if the estate is too large and it contains unusual assets. However, in case the estate is not complex or large and there are not a lot of assets involved, then you may be able to go just fine without the help of a lawyer.

A good way to determine whether you can handle the case on your own is to ask yourself several questions such as if the deceased person’s assets can be transferred outside of probate, if the family members are getting along well, if it is a simple estate without added and unusual assets and so on? If the answer to most of these questions is “yes” and you know what you’re doing, you can go ahead and handle it on your own. If however, you are not sure about the answers to these questions, then you’ll need help from an experienced probate attorney.

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