What Does a Probate Lawyer Do?
A probate lawyer is a lawyer who specializes in probate law, which concerns the dozens of issues that can arise from a person’s death and transferring assets. Probate is the legal process of validating the deceased’s will, taking inventory of the assets and paying the applicable taxes and creditors. Once that is completed then the remaining assets are distributed to the heirs and beneficiaries named in the will. The process can take anywhere from a few months to a year, depending on the complexity of the will.
These issues can often be handled before the death occurs, such as in the event of a terminal illness. If the death is unexpected, then some of the probate issues can be more difficult, especially if the person dies intestate, meaning without a will.
If the will is very simple and straightforward, has a single beneficiary or the will contains common assets, such as a house, bank accounts and a life insurance policy, then a probate lawyer may not be necessary. In most cases there are too many duties and variables to make handling your own probate easy enough for a layperson to do it.
There are dozens of issues that a probate lawyer must be prepared to handle. He must know how to minimize estate taxes through gifts or family partnerships to ensure that the bulk of the estate is passed on to beneficiaries instead of the government; transfer the deceased’s title to real estate; handle legal guardian issues if a minor child is left without parents; deal with creditors and insolvent estates and plenty of other complex legal issues.
Another problem that can occur is if a will is contested. A will can be contested by anyone with a legal financial interest in the estate, including a spouse or former spouse, children, heirs and creditors. If a child or spouse has been excluded from the will or not be treated as favorably as other heirs, then they have a right to contest the will. Family members may also contest a will if they feel too much of the estate is being bequeathed to non-profit organizations.
Many people are reluctant to draft a living will because it reminds them of their own mortality. Nonetheless, a probate lawyer can help people settle their affairs to avoid needless complications later and give surviving family members a little bit less to worry about.