What Is a Probate Lawyer?
Probate lawyers are licensed attorneys who work with estates as they go through the probate process.
Understanding the duties they handle can help you determine whether you need one and how to best utilize a probate attorney if you hire one.
After someone passes away, their estate usually goes through the probate process where debts are paid and assets are distributed. A probate attorney works with the beneficiaries and executors of wills to get the estate through the probate process. They help settle the affairs of the person who passed away. A probate lawyer can have varying degrees of involvement in an estate, depending on what type of estate planning the person did before they passed away and how much help the client needs.
Several factors play into what a probate attorney does for a client. If the person who passed away had a will or a trust, handling the estate is usually much faster and easier. There might not be much lawyer involvement. For large estates, people with no wills or situations where beneficiaries are fighting for assets, the probate lawyer will likely have more duties.
Some things a probate attorney can do include:
- Ensuring all bills and debts are paid in full
- Assisting the executor of the will
- Representing a party when someone contests the will
- Assisting a loved one in becoming the estate administrator if there's no will
- Inventorying and securing all assets of the decedent
- Collecting the life insurance policies
- Getting appraisals done on assets
- Handling all tax issues, including estate or inheritance taxes
- Creating documents needed for probate court
- Transferring the decedent's assets to the beneficiaries
The processes and inheritance laws vary by state. An experienced probate attorney understands those regulations and helps you through the process.
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Both types of lawyers work with estates, but they come into the picture at different points. An estate-planning lawyer helps you get your estate in order. They can help you draft a will and decide how to handle your assets after you pass away. Estate-planning lawyers can also help you create a living will to document your wishes if you become incapacitated. You should visit an estate-planning lawyer early to ensure your affairs are in order.
A probate lawyer comes into the picture after someone passes away. They settle the estate once the person is gone. If the person used an estate-planning lawyer previously, the probate attorney's job is much easier.
You don't have to hire a probate lawyer, but you might want one. If you've recently lost a loved one or you're the executor of a will, a probate lawyer can be beneficial. Not all estates go through probate, such as estates with a trust. You can skip a probate lawyer in that situation. You might also be okay on your own in a straightforward situation, especially when there's a will in place.
However, you might benefit from hiring a probate lawyer if you're an executor of a will and are unfamiliar with the process or uncomfortable handling legal issues on your own. An attorney can also be beneficial if the estate is complicated or beneficiaries are fighting over the assets. If you're a beneficiary or loved one and want to challenge the will, you can hire an attorney to represent you and advise you on the situation. A probate attorney will walk you through the process and provide legal advice in these complicated situations.
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