A probate lawyer, or probate attorney, guides the executors of an estate through the probate process.
Usually, when a probate lawyer is hired, he or she handles all the paperwork and proceedings in court. A probate lawyer also can advise the executor on actions the executor must take and guide the executor through those actions. Probate lawyers charge for their services, and the charges might be hourly fees, flat fees, or a percentage of the estate value.
Probate is the legal process that ensures your debts are paid and legal title of your assets is transferred to the appropriate heirs and beneficiaries. If you have a will, the probate process determines whether the will is authentic and valid.
The complexity of probate varies, based on the composition of the estate and the state or local probate laws. Many estates can be probated without the help of an attorney, while an attorney is helpful for other estates.
When there is a last will and testament, a probate lawyer might be hired to assist the executor of the estate with legal questions or complex tasks. The probate lawyer can be assigned any tasks related to probating the estate, including:
If there was no last will and testament, the deceased is said to have died intestate, and the probate process is handled according to the intestacy laws and the probate court. Many of the same steps required in the probate of an estate with a will are taken. But the deceased’s estate will be distributed as directed in the state’s intestacy laws as interpreted by the probate court.
Although a probate lawyer is not required in most states, the counsel can greatly help speed up the probate process, depending on the size of the estate. Bigger and more complex estates benefit from hiring a probate lawyer more than a relatively small estate. A small estate often has a simple probate process, while bigger estates require more work in finding beneficiaries, securing assets, contacting creditors, paying taxes and making the final distribution. Therefore, these are the main reasons that executors will choose to hire a probate lawyer for the probate process.
Valuable contributions to this summary of “What is a Probate Lawyer/Attorney and Why Do I Need One?” were made by Bob Carlson, editor of the Retirement Watch financial advisory service and chairman of the Board of Trustees of Virginia’s Fairfax County Employees’ Retirement System with more than $4 billion in assets.
Katie Kao is an editorial intern with Eagle Financial Publications.