A probate attorney is an important element of estate planning and probated estate administration. Probate is required within each of the 50 states unless individuals establish a revocable or irrevocable trust. The probate process is required to validate decedents’ last will and testament, estate settlement, and distribution of inheritance assets to designated heirs.
Most people require the services of a Transactional probate attorney to manage estate administration. Transactional attorneys open probate cases, submit decedent Wills through the court system, and provide assistance to the designated probate executor.
When family discord exists, a probate litigator may be required. Probate litigators are attorneys that specialize in estate mediation. They can be retained to help the estate administrator or manage the estate on behalf of decedents. Probate litigators are required when heirs contest the last will or fight over distribution of inheritance property.
When heirs contest a Will they are initially responsible for legal fees and court costs. If the probate judge rules in favor of the Plaintiff, the estate is responsible for reimbursement of associated legal fees. Contesting a Will can suspend distribution of estate assets for months. Regardless of whether heirs win or not, contesting a will can potentially bankrupt the estate or result in selling inheritance property to pay related expenses.
If decedents own real estate that does not transfer to a surviving spouse, the estate is responsible for related expenses throughout the probate process. Expenses can include mortgage installments, property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, homeowner’s association fees, and required maintenance. If the estate is unable to pay expenses the court can order the property sold.
Transactional probate lawyers are usually required when decedents die without leaving a Will. This is referred to as an intestate estate, which is infamous for dragging on for months before settlement can occur. Transactional lawyers can help personal probate representatives organize necessary documents, submit documents through the court, designate an estate administrator, and represent the family in court.
When entering into estate planning it is best to interview three or more probate attorneys. It can be difficult to interview lawyers shortly after a loved one has passed away. However, if faced with hiring a probate attorney soon after the death of a family member occurs, try to obtain referrals instead of locating a lawyer on your own.
Fees associated with estate management vary by state probate laws, estate value, type of inheritance property, whether the decedent executed a last will, and how well family members get along. Depending on state law, probate attorneys can charge an hourly rate, flat fee, or percentage of estate value.
The majority of estate management duties can be performed by the designated Administrator. Estate administrators are compensated for their time according to state probate laws. Executors must keep record of time spent working on estate management.
Family members often feel awkward accepting payment for managing a loved one’s estate. However, there are many duties involved which can be time consuming. Even a small estate valued below $50,000 can take 100 hours or more of work before settlement is complete. When appointing a probate administrator it is best to select someone who is organized, works well under pressure and is good with finances.
Probate attorneys can establish estate management strategies to avoid probate altogether. Options can include irrevocable life insurance trusts, revocable trusts, and other strategies which transfer financial assets and personal property to beneficiaries without undergoing the probate process.
Engaging in estate planning is one of the best gifts you can give your family. If you haven’t executed a Will, now is the time to do so. We never know when our time will come. The sooner you prepare, the sooner you can obtain peace of mind knowing everything is in order.