When it's time to create or update a will, everyone knows to turn to a probate lawyer. After that, though, some people are fuzzy about what the duties of a probate lawyer are. The probate process is a very old, and sometimes difficult, happening after a death, so read on and learn when a probate lawyer's services really come in handy.
- No Will – Those who never get around to making out a will (or when a will cannot be located) are said to have passed away intestate. That circumstance, however, doesn't mean that the estate of the deceased is not to be probated – just that it might be a bit more complicated and drawn out. The rules about estates without wills vary widely from state to state but all have a method of assigning beneficiaries through a process known as succession. One of the first acts of the probate court is to appoint someone from the family or a close friend (or lawyer) to be the executor (also called a personal representative) to serve as an administrator of the estate. It should be mentioned that very small estates may not have to be probated.
- Working With the Executor – One of the main duties of the probate lawyer is to guide the executor through their duties while keeping things legal and aboveboard. One common issue requiring legal input is paying the bills of the estate. Executors need to know what bills are considered a priority and which ones to ignore.
- Working With the Other Side – Probate lawyers may be hired by those with an interest in the estate and who wish to challenge a will (or the probate proceedings if there is no will). One common issue is potential beneficiaries alleging that bequests were prompted under duress.
- Asset Inventory – To ensure fairness, all assets of the estate must be inventoried and a value placed on things like cars, homes, and more. It's worth pointing out that a lot of assets can be left out of probate, in certain cases. Not counted would be any real estate with certain deed designations, property already covered by a trust, and accounts with payable-on-death designations.
Other Common Probate Responsibilities
- Taxes – The income, property, and estate tax issues can be complex.
- Deeds and vehicle title re-titling.
- Bank accounts – Once a person passes away, the bank accounts are frozen. In some cases, the funds may become available to help deal with an estate.
- Property sales – If necessary, property must be sold during probate.
And more. Speak to a probate lawyer and find out more about what to expect when a loved one passes away.