When Is It Necessary To Call A Probate Attorney?

A loved one’s passing is a time of grief and reflection. Amid these circumstances, you may find yourself tasked with managing the deceased’s estate. This might only exacerbate your stress, especially if you are unfamiliar with probate’s legal complexities. Here’s where the expertise of a probate attorney can prove invaluable.

Probate attorneys are specialized legal professionals who assist in navigating an estate through the legal process of probate. Their role is to help executors of the deceased’s will or estate representatives to manage tasks like validating the will, appraising the estate’s assets, settling debts, identifying beneficiaries, and facilitating asset distribution.

But is hiring a probate attorney always necessary? The answer depends on various factors. This guide will explain different situations when you might need a probate attorney. 

Understanding Probate

Probate is a legal process that occurs after a person’s demise. It involves validating the deceased person’s will (if any), appointing an estate administrator, determining the worth of the estate’s assets, paying off estate taxes and debts, identifying beneficiaries and heirs, and distributing assets to beneficiaries and heirs.

In some cases, estates may be straightforward enough not to require the services of a probate lawyer. This is often the case with unsupervised estates, which typically aren’t high-value and have no disputes. However, supervised estates, which are more complex and often require court or magistrate involvement, might necessitate legal advice.

Assessing the Need for a Probate Lawyer

To decide whether you need a probate attorney, consider the following factors:

Estate Size and Complexity

If the estate contains only common assets, such as houses, bank or brokerage accounts, vehicles, and household goods, settling might be relatively simple. However, things become more complicated when an estate includes a business, commercial real estate, or any other asset requiring special ongoing handling. In that case, it’s advisable to consult a probate attorney.

Estate Debts and Taxes

If the estate has sufficient funds to pay legitimate debts (such as final income taxes, expenses of the last illness, and funeral costs), with some left over for beneficiaries under the will or state law, you won’t have to determine which debts to pay. 

But suppose your initial investigation suggests that there may not be enough money to pay debts and taxes the deceased person owed. In such a scenario, get legal advice from a probate attorney before paying any bills. State law gives some creditors priority over others.

Reducing Family Conflict

A dear one’s death can bring mixed emotional reactions. While it could be a time for grieving, it can also be a time of tension between family members.   

Indeed, will contests are rare but consult a probate attorney immediately if a family member threatens to sue over the estate. A probate lawsuit can cause incredible division in a family while draining significant resources from the estate.

A lawyer can help you avoid a court battle and calm the pressure and anxiety more efficiently than those more closely involved. 

Drafting a Will

DIY will options are available, but there are serious consequences if you don’t follow the right protocols. Not only will this expose your will to contention among your heirs, but it can also cause conflict and stress. The best way to ensure that your wishes are followed upon your demise is to have a probate attorney draft your will.

Final Thoughts

While you are not legally mandated to hire a probate lawyer, they can make life easier after losing a dear one. That said, the decision to hire a probate attorney ultimately depends on the size, complexity, and other circumstances surrounding the estate. If you ultimately decide you need a probate attorney, ensure that you find the right legal expert for your needs.