Have you recently lost a loved one? Need to deal with the probate process, but not sure where to start? Not sure if and when you should hire a probate attorney?
The probate process can be a tricky thing. Especially when taxes and family conflict comes into play! But fear not, we’re here to help you through your probate problems.
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about probate law, including what it is, how it works, and when you’ll need a probate attorney.
What is Probate?
Probate is a legal process that occurs after a person has died.
In it, the validity of the deceased person’s will is verified, and someone, family or friend, is appointed as the executor of it. This executor is then left to manage the will’s estate and distribute assets, such as property to anyone named in the will. If there is no will, the probate process is used to determine to whom and in what amounts the deceased’s assets should be distributed.
Probate is a catch-all term that covers the legal process, the court in which the issue is handled, as well as the act of distributing any of the deceased’s assets. The probate process covers every aspect of estate administration, including:
- Validating the deceased party’s will
- Appointing an estate administrator, representative, or executive
- Calculating the worth of all assets in the estate
- Paying off any applicable estate taxes and debts
- Identifying all beneficiaries or heirs and distributing assets
This process generally begins after the deceased party’s representative files a petition in the probate court. It ends when the court officially closes the estate.
The Role of a Probate Attorney
A probate attorney is a state-licensed legal representative who advises the executor or one or more beneficiaries of a deceased party’s estate. Their day-to-day-responsibilities can vary greatly depending on the probate laws of the state the deceased party died in, and based on whether or not this person passed away without a will.
A probate lawyer can assist with a variety of responsibilities throughout the probate process. They can help identify and secure probate assets, and help obtain appraisals any of the deceased party’s property. They can also ensure that any documents required by the probate court are filed in a timely fashion.
Beyond that, they can advise on the payment of the deceased person’s bills and outstanding debts, and keep track of the estate’s checking accounts. They can also manage the payment of any relevant estate and inheritance taxes, and make sure any income tax issues are addressed.
Here are some of the other general tasks a probate lawyer can assist you with:
- Settling disputes between beneficiaries and personal representatives
- The sale of any estate property
- Distributing the deceased party’s assets amongst beneficiaries
As you can see, a probate lawyer can assist with a wide range of responsibilities throughout the probate process. They can take what is an easily overwhelming process and make it simpler and stress-free.
When You Need a Probate Attorney
Now that you know what a probate lawyer is, you’re probably wondering if and when you’d need one for your probate issue.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to determine if you need a probate lawyer.
Can the Deceased Party’s Assets Be Transferred Outside of Probate?
If the deceased party planned their estate properly in advance, you may not need to handle estate issues in a court setting. Common assets like joint tenancy and survivorship community can often be handled outside of probate court.
It can also be unnecessary for any assets in which the deceased party has been named a beneficiary.
Is the Estate Big Enough to Pay Off All Existing Debts?
You may not need a probate lawyer if the estate has enough money to pay off all legitimate debts, such as final income taxes, medical bills, and funeral costs.
If you realize the estate isn’t large enough to pay off these bills, you should contact a probate lawyer to help you figure out how to pay those off. Under no circumstances should you pay off these other debts without consulting a lawyer in advance.
Does the Estate Owe Federal Estate Taxes?
Did you know most estates aren’t required to pay federal estate taxes? If the estate is large enough to owe estate taxes, you want an attorney who is familiar with that process to assist you.
What to Do When Working with a Probate Lawyer
Hiring a probate lawyer can really help you navigate the probate process in the smoothest way possible. But there are some things you’ll need to do to make the process as productive as possible.
Here are some tips to follow when working with a probate lawyer:
- Provide your lawyer with all necessary documents (such as the will, deeds, insurance policies, and tax returns)
- Ask any questions you have in advance and communicative often
- Stay on top of your case
By following these simple tips, you’ll have a great working relationship with your probate lawyer.
Figuring Out the Probate Process
Dealing the death of a loved one can be sad and complicated, especially if there’s an estate involved. A probate attorney can walk you through the probate process in the most painless possible, and make you feel secure during a stressful time.
Are you currently estate planning or struggling through the probate process? Contact us for expert legal assistance!