The Purpose of a Probate Attorney: How Can They Help?

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You may have heard the term “probate attorney” before, but do you know exactly what they do? Many seem not to. We’ll clarify that here.

The basics of a probate attorney

Probate attorneys handle the estate of deceased persons, known legally as a “decedent.”?Typically their training is comprehensive around settling estates, getting financial and legal matters tied up, and everything else that needs to be done at such a time.

One example: selling a loved one’s home

When someone passes away, relative to their will, there are usually two potential situations for the house.

Situation 1 is that the house was deeded (essentially left in the will) to another family member. This is typically the easier process to manage. Oftentimes it’s a clean hand-off.

Situation 2 is that the house is part of probate. In that context, a probate attorney would work (often with real estate attorneys) on the probate process aspects, including:

  • Proving the will is valid in court
  • Getting an inventory?of property
  • Tracking all spends related to the estate
  • Appraising the home
  • Understanding the outstanding debts and paying them
  • Distribute other assets according to state law

Using an attorney is very important if a loved one’s house is within the probate process. There’s a lot to navigate otherwise.

Preventing family issues

In certain families, especially those with large asset bases or capital, inheritance feuds can play out after the death of a patriarchal figure.

These are often long, drawn-out, messy, and extremely emotional.

It’s best to avoid them by contacting an attorney sooner rather than later — i.e. before the person passes away, if possible — because early estate planning can save you many hassles.

We also suggest married couples seek an attorney, largely for the same preparation issues. But a good probate lawyer can help you with many other facets of estate planning, including:

  • Tax issues
  • Setting up trusts
  • Understanding how beneficiaries work
  • Act as executor for the estate
  • Help you to avoid probate after the death of your spouse

The repercussions of not having a probate lawyer

There are many, actually. But first, could you handle probate without an attorney?

You?could, but it’s not wise. No state requires you to use a lawyer in the probate process, but complicated situations arise all the time during probate. Consider:

  • Complicated tax situations
  • Poor or ambiguous language in the will
  • Disputed claims between family members
  • Disputed debts and unfinished contracts
  • Most property going to a minor
  • Not enough assets to cover the debts

In these situations, finding an attorney is probably your best bet. If you lack law training and state regulatory knowledge, it would be an extremely stressful process to get through. (And take time.)

There are repercussions to not using probate lawyers, most of which result in time/money losses for your loved ones.

For example, without a will, oftentimes families need a court order to obtain a decedent’s assets.

What’s worse: if the assets and the estate become public property, that means any and all family secrets are now public knowledge. Many come to probate law firms simply to avoid that dirty laundry being aired.

Finally: children. If you have children and want to secure a better life for them, a probate attorney is a strong decision.

13 Comments

  1. Max on September 6, 2017 at 4:46 pm

    My wife and I had dinner with some friends the other night, and they were talking about their search for a probate lawyer, which got me curious about what they do. I’m glad that you talked about probate attorneys being skilled in settling estates and getting financial and legal matters taken care of. I’m going to have to see if I can follow up with our friends on their search for an attorney, and hopefully have a better understanding of what’s going on thanks to your article!

  2. Deb Pearl on September 19, 2017 at 5:38 pm

    My family has been looking into getting a probate lawyer to help with the will of my uncle. I had no idea what a probate lawyer does. It sounds like they would be very important if they help with the will of my uncle with his assets and his home. We wouldn’t want anything to go wrong in the process of taking care of it. Thanks for the information!

  3. Derek Dewitt on September 23, 2017 at 3:32 pm

    I can see why someone would want an attorney to help them with estate planning before any issues arise. I like that you suggest young couples do this so there aren’t any complications later. I wouldn’t want my kids of family members fighting over possessions when I pass away so I might have to do this. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Dan Moller on November 13, 2017 at 4:55 pm

    I’m really glad that this article talked about probate attorney. I’ve been planning to have an estate plan since I wanted to organize all my assets so if anything bad happens, and all my valuables will be passed through all the rightful beneficiaries. I understand that probate lawyer is not a must, but having someone professional with skills and knowledge about this will help my family understand all the legalities and it’s a wise choice that there will be someone to explain and work throughout the process like paperwork and disputing the claims.

  5. Marc on January 13, 2018 at 1:21 am

    Thanks for mentioning how a probate attorney can help you deal with the property of a deceased person. It is important to remember that hiring a professional to help you out with this can also help you find the best way to avoid problems with a property. My dad was talking about how he needed to find a good probate attorney that can help him divide his wealth when he passes away, so I wanted to look into it for him.

  6. Arthur DeMarco on March 9, 2018 at 5:16 pm

    I think like you said, one of hiring a probate lawyer’s main draws is preventing family issues. It’s a sensitive time for all involved and no one wants to be squabbling over money while others are grieving. Nothing would be worse than a death in the family causing a rift between the remaining members.

  7. Amanda Drew on March 15, 2018 at 9:39 pm

    Thanks for pointing out that a probate attorney will be able to help you understand any debts, appraise the home, and inventory the property. It seems like that would really help. I bet that they’d be able to do that as you’re making the will. They’d probably also help you figure out who to leave the rest of your belongings to besides just the house. So it’d be a good idea to get a probate attorney to help you out.

  8. Joy Butler on April 17, 2018 at 12:44 am

    Thanks for discussing the repercussions of not having a probate lawyer. It is also one of my questions just like the others if am not mistaken. Before reading this, I was also confused if there’s no need to use a lawyer in the probate process. I think it is more advisable to have one from the very beginning of the process.

  9. Vivian Black on May 14, 2018 at 3:29 pm

    My siblings and I have been preparing to sell my deceased mother’s home and have grown curious about how essential the use of a probate lawyer is in this process. I appreciate that you mentioned that the repercussions of not using a probate lawyer could result in the loss of time/money for your loved ones. Thanks for your tips regarding the need for probate lawyers!

  10. John on May 17, 2018 at 8:51 pm

    I like your tip for couples to seek an attorney. Marriage can add an extra layer to things like this. I’m getting older, so I think it’s time I start writing a will and figuring this out.

  11. Max Sayer on June 6, 2018 at 5:21 pm

    I have recently been thinking about finding a probate lawyer just in case I run into any situations. I really appreciated how it talked about how family issues are often long, drawn-out, messy, and extremely emotional. I agree that it would be a good idea to contact an attorney sooner rather than later.

  12. Monica Chavez on June 27, 2018 at 1:55 am

    You make a great point that having a probate attorney can help to prevent family issues. My friend and her family recently lost their grandma. I think it would be really helpful if they got a probate lawyer to help them out in case any problems should arise.

  13. Amanda Curry on November 9, 2018 at 2:21 pm

    It is great to know there are lawyers that are able to help with a loved one’s estate. It can be very overwhelming to deal with. Thank you for the great article!

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