Probate is a legal process where the court supervises transferring a decedent’s property after death. Probate is not a requirement for transferring property after death; in fact, many people’s final affairs are administered without court involvement particularly if the decedent qualifies for a small estate designation or estate assets are placed in a living trust. In the event, an estate requires administration involvement by the probate court hiring an experienced probate law attorney can alleviate some the headaches and uncertainties associated with the probate process.
Probate attorneys fulfill a variety of roles in the context of a probate case beyond just administering a will. A probate attorney’s expertise is not only limited to probate law, but this expertise can also extend to real estate law, debtor-creditor law, commercial law, and a wide range of other areas of financial law.
What does a probate attorney do?
A probate attorney can assume a number of roles. In the most common example, the probate lawyer serves as the guide for the probate process managing the estate. Many probate estates are wrapped up with little to no controversy. In these cases, the beneficiaries agree on how the estate should be handled with a probate estate planning attorney simply shepherding the case through the probate process. In this capacity, probate administration lawyers act in the role of a manager locating and securing assets, conducting valuations and appraisals of the decedent’s property, addressing any life insurance policies, retirement, and personal investment accounts, paying the decedent’s creditors and satisfying any of the decedent’s outstanding tax liabilities.
A probate lawyer may also advise the beneficiary or an estate creditor particularly if the beneficiary’s rights in the estate are being disputed by the personal representative or other beneficiaries. Also, probate lawyers specialize litigating disputes that arise as part of the decedent’s estate such as when a beneficiary challenges the validity of the decedent’s will through a will contest. A will contest a party who asserts a right to be paid from estate assets as either a beneficiary or creditor. In these cases, skilled counsel can assist a claimant to navigate the often turbulent and emotionally charged waters of a will contest.
In addition to assisting beneficiaries to assert their rights to a claim in a will challenge, a probate attorney may also assist a beneficiary prepare to receive assets from an estate. This advice can be based on how best to reduce tax liability when receiving estate assets and how best to protect assets from creditor claims or preserve them for future use.
Probate attorneys lastly, and most importantly can provide proactive advice to estate planners when structuring estate assets particularly with an eye toward asset preservation and toward reducing the tax liability with regard to distributions. Ironically, a probate attorney who may be of particular use in the probate process may also advise their client to keep certain assets out of the probate process so as to reduce costs and assert more control over them.