Probate administration begins when a person passes away, regardless of whether or not they had a will in place. If they did have a will in place, that dictates how their assets are divided between their beneficiaries. If there is no will, state law decides which beneficiaries the assets are distributed to. A probate lawyer’s main job during this process is to guide the executor or beneficiaries through the probate administration process.
Is There a Difference Between a Probate and an Estate Planning Lawyer?
Estate law is a vast practice area that includes the duties of both probate and estate planning lawyers, with some overlap. The primary roles of these two types of lawyers are:
- Estate planning lawyer: This lawyer works with clients to draft documents such as living wills, trusts, living trusts, and powers of attorney. An estate planning lawyer may help reduce taxes on estate inheritance or assist in planning for the care of elderly family members. Their jobs are typically more centered around those that are still living.
- Probate lawyer: This lawyer is in charge of estate administration after a person (the decedent) perishes. The probate lawyer may assist the executor or administrator of an estate or even become the personal representative themselves if there isn’t another person to designate for those roles.
The same legal representative may hold both these positions. However, an attorney may specialize in one aspect over the other.
What Are the Responsibilities of a Probate Lawyer?
If there is a will in place, a probate lawyer may consult with the executor during the valuation, paperwork, and asset distribution, among other things. If someone challenges the will; for example, if a surviving descendent believes the will was signed under duress or is otherwise invalid; a probate attorney may represent either party during a trial.
In the absence of a valid will, the estate administrator or probate lawyer (in a consultative role or solely) would be bound to follow state intestacy laws regarding property distribution. A probate lawyer may also represent a family member in court if they were designated an estate administrator.
Some other responsibilities for a probate attorney may include:
- Locating, securing, and valuating a decedent’s estate
- Finding and collecting insurance policies
- Appraising a decedent’s assets or subjecting them to appraisal
- Managing the finances of the estate during the process
- Determining debt validity and advising payments
- Filing required court documents
- Securing tax accounts or working with accountants during the final income tax filing
Do I Need a Probate Lawyer?
If your loved one had a large estate and you have been placed in a position where you must distribute that estate, with or without a will, you may consider consulting with a probate lawyer. The process of being an estate administrator is an arduous one. Ask yourself the following:
- Do I have a solid grasp of my state’s estate laws?
- Have I handled the probate of an estate previously?
- Are the family members likely to get along?
- Is there sufficient money to pay the estate’s debts?
- Is there a will or trust in place?
If you have a tough time answering any of the above questions, it’s likely that you should speak with a probate lawyer for a consultation. Call our office today to speak to one of our attorneys with a background in estate and probate law.