Probate is the process of settling a person’s affairs after they pass away by collecting their assets, paying off any debts, and distributing the remaining property or money to beneficiaries and heirs. After a person dies, their estate which consists of any bank accounts, money, and property will pass through probate and an Executor will be chosen (typically a family member or close friend) to handle those final affairs of the deceased while the courts settle their assets.
A probate lawyer is a state licensed attorney who provides legal counsel and advice to the Executor and beneficiaries of the estate as how to best handle the final affairs of the deceased. A person is not legally required to obtain an attorney during the probate process, however, seeking the help of an experienced professional is always recommended, as probate can be a confusing and challenging process.
What Will a Probate Lawyer Do?
Probate laws vary from state to state, and probate lawyers are known by many names: estate lawyers or estate attorneys. However, the one thing all probate attorneys are responsible for is taking the Executor or personal representative of the deceased person’s estate through the entire process of probate from beginning to end. The details of the process will depend on how the individual’s estate was left and whether or not there was valid Last Will and Testament.
Typically, probate will last anywhere from nine months to a year, but in extreme cases, the process can take years to resolve, particularly if no will is involved or various family members want to challenge the proceedings. A good probate lawyer will be prepared for any issues that come up during the procedure and assist the family through any bumps in the road no matter how tiny or problematic they may be.
Probate lawyers can also be hired to manage the dealings between the Executor of the will and the rest of the beneficiaries (which ends up being a result of family members not getting along). Attorneys also specialize in representing beneficiaries or Executors who challenge the validity of the deceased person’s Last Will and Testament through a will contest, and they are typically known as estate litigators, probate litigators or estate and trust litigators.
How Will a Probate Lawyer Assist an Executor?
A probate attorney advises and assists the executor of an estate with the following:
✔ Locating all of the deceased person's assets including probate and non-probate assets.
✔ Obtaining values and appraisals for all of the estate’s assets and properties.
✔ Preparing and filing all documents need by the courts.
✔ Collecting any life insurance payouts and managing retirement plans, including IRAs and 401(k)s.
✔ Managing payment of the deceased's final bills, other debts, and keeping track of existing bank accounts.
✔ Managing upcoming estate taxes and inheritance taxes at both the federal and state levels, and, deciding where the money will come from to pay them.
✔ Dealing with any income tax issues and settling disputes among Personal Representatives and beneficiaries
✔ Helping with the sale of estate property and requesting court permission for various actions as required by applicable state probate laws
✔ Managing the distribution process for the deceased’s assets after all debts have been paid and the final probate process completed.