What is a Probate Lawyer?
A probate lawyer assists executors and administrators in properly administering a probate estate. During probate, the executor or administrator is likely to have questions for their probate lawyer and require guidance on taking possession and control of estate property, the proper management of estate estates, identifying potential creditors of the estate, correctly paying estate expenses, and correctly selling or disposing of estate assets when needed.
That will include filing the petition for probate and all the associated court-required forms, sending creditors claim notices, preparing an inventory and appraisal for the estate, and petitioning the court to close the estate. A probate lawyer guides the executor of the will or beneficiaries of an estate through the probate process. That means anything from identifying estate assets and beneficiaries to distributing assets and inheritances.
What is Probate?
Before we delve deeper into the role of a probate lawyer, let’s first understand what probate is. Probate is the legal process through which a deceased person’s assets are distributed and their final affairs settled. It involves proving the validity of a will, identifying and inventorying the deceased person’s assets, paying off debts and taxes, and distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries. The process is court-supervised and may also involve resolving any disputes that arise during estate administration.
What does a probate lawyer do?
Specifically, here are some of the everyday tasks a probate lawyer may assist an executor and beneficiaries with during the probate process:
- Collecting proceeds from life insurance policies
- Identifying and securing estate assets
- Obtaining appraisals for the decedent’s real property
- Assisting in the payment of bills and debts
- Drafting, prepping, and filing all documents required by a probate court
- Determining if any estate or inheritance taxes are due and making sure those debts are satisfied
- Resolving income tax issues
- Managing the estate checking account
- Transferring assets in the decedent’s name to the appropriate beneficiaries
- Making a final disbursement of assets to beneficiaries after paying all bills and taxes
The Importance of a Probate Lawyer
Now that we have a basic understanding of probate and probate lawyer lawyers let’s explore the importance of hiring a probate lawyer in California:
- Expert Guidance and Knowledge
Probate law is complex and varies from state to state. A qualified probate lawyer is well-versed in California’s probate laws and can provide valuable legal advice and guidance. They can help you understand your rights and responsibilities, ensure compliance with legal requirements, and navigate through the complexities of the process.
- Document Preparation and Review
A probate lawyer plays a crucial role in preparing and reviewing legal documents required during the probate process. They can help draft and file the necessary paperwork, including petitions, inventories, and accountings. By ensuring that all documents are accurately prepared and meet the legal requirements, a probate lawyer helps minimize the risk of delays, disputes, or even potential litigation.
- Representation in Court
Suppose a dispute or litigation arises during the probate process, such as challenges to the will’s validity or disputes between beneficiaries. In that case, a probate lawyer can provide representation in court. They can present arguments, advocate for your interests, and help protect your rights throughout litigation.
- Overseeing Estate Administration
Administering an estate involves various tasks, including collecting and appraising assets, paying debts and taxes, and distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries. A probate lawyer can oversee and assist with these administrative duties, ensuring everything is handled correctly and following the law. Their involvement can alleviate the burden on the executor or administrator and ensure a smooth administration process.
- Resolving Disputes and Challenges
Probate disputes and challenges can arise for various reasons, such as disagreements among beneficiaries, allegations of undue influence, or issues with creditors. A probate lawyer can help resolve these conflicts through negotiation, mediation, or, if necessary, litigation. Their experience and expertise in handling such disputes can help protect your interests and achieve a favorable resolution.
When to Hire a Probate Lawyer
While hiring a probate lawyer is not always mandatory, it is highly advisable to seek legal representation in certain situations:
- Complex Estates
Hiring a probate lawyer is essential if the estate is complex, with numerous assets, significant debts, or potential disputes. They can navigate through the intricacies of the estate and ensure that everything is correctly accounted for and distributed according to the deceased person’s wishes.
- `Disputes and Controversies
Suppose there are disputes among the beneficiaries, challenges to the will’s validity, or allegations of undue influence. In that case, it is crucial to seek legal counsel. A probate lawyer can protect your interests, represent you in court if needed, and help resolve conflicts fairly and legally.
- Limited Time or Resources
Administering an estate can be time-consuming and demanding, especially for executors who have other commitments or need more experience in handling legal matters. Hiring a probate lawyer allows you to delegate the legal aspects to a professional, giving you peace of mind and ensuring everything is done correctly.
- Uncertain or Changing Laws
Probate laws can change, and staying up-to-date with the latest regulations can be challenging. A probate lawyer remains informed about legal developments and can provide guidance based on current laws and precedents.
So, does my property have to go through probate?
Not all of a decedent’s assets go through the California probate process. The probate process may be unnecessary if the deceased had no titled assets. The California Probate Code provides that estates of $184,500 or less do not need to go through the probate process.
Is probate the right step for you?
If you need more guidance in the probate process, check out our Overview of the California Probate process.
Probate is necessary when the property cannot be transferred from the deceased person to a living person because the title is in the person’s name who passed. If you don’t have another way of getting ownership of your deceased loved one’s property, then probate is very likely necessary. Remember, nothing will happen on its own. You have to start the process.
If your case is in the state of California and you’d like an honest evaluation, then give us a call or fill out our contact form.