A probate lawyer assists and advises the Personal Representative (Executor) through the probate process of administering a deceased person’s estate. But how do you know if you really need to hire a probate lawyer? It is not required by law, but unless you are a practicing probate lawyer yourself, there are many good reasons to consider hiring one. Below are a few questions that can help you determine if hiring a probate lawyer is the right for you:
Is there a Will?
If the deceased had a Will, then it should state who is to serve as the Personal Representative. If there was no Will, then court filings will need to be made to determine the Personal Representative. When it comes to dealing with the court, it is best to let an experienced lawyer handle the filings.
Is there Ambiguous Language in the Will?
If language in the Will could be interpreted in more than one way, get a probate lawyer involved. Failure to do so could look suspicious on the part of the Personal Representative and slow down the probate process.
Can Assets Pass Outside of Probate?
Assets that were held jointly, with rights of survivorship, or have named beneficiaries can often go straight to their new owners, bypassing probate all together. But, if the assets are left with no clear owner, they will need to be a part of the probate process, which can require court filings, appraisals, distributions, etc. Best to let a probate lawyer handle that one.
Is there a Business Involved?
Probate can be complicated enough, throw a business into the mix, and things can become messy very fast. Dealing with a business as an estate asset is a job for a professional probate lawyer.
Is there Enough Money for Debts?
If the Personal Representative finds that there is enough money in the estate to cover the deceased’s debts and pay out to the beneficiaries- no problem. However, if the opposite is a true, then consider hiring a probate lawyer. The lawyer will be familiar with the state laws that give some creditors priority over others.
Does the Estate Owe Taxes?
It is rare, but estates valued over $5.34 million may owe federal estate tax. Dealing with an estate that large, and dealing with federal estate taxes, can be overwhelming for an unexperienced Personal Representative. Bringing in a probate lawyer might be the right call.
Is Anything Being Contested?
If an heir or devisee contests any part of the probate process, seek out a probate lawyer. The right lawyer can serve as a much needed third party when things get heated and may even be able to prevent the disagreements from landing in court.