A probate attorney specializes in establishing estate planning and managing probated estates. Probate is mandated in the United States unless decedents establish trusts. The process is necessary to validate decedents' last will, settle the estate, and distribute assets to named beneficiaries.
A Transactional probate attorney is used to handle estate administration duties. Transactional lawyers open the probate case and present Wills to the probate court. They provide assistance to the appointed probate personal representative and file legal documents according to protocol.
Probate Litigators are lawyers that specialize in managing estates enveloped in family discord. This type of attorney is required when heirs contest the last will, or are fighting over distribution of inheritance assets. Probate Litigators can mediate and negotiate on behalf of the estate administrator or can be appointed to manage the estate.
When heirs contest the decedent's last will and testament, they are initially responsible for legal costs. If a judge rules in their favor the estate must reimburse heirs or pay their legal counsel directly. Regardless of whether heirs win or not, contesting a will can tie up estate assets for months or years or bankrupt the estate, leaving nothing for beneficiaries.
When decedents own real estate their estate is responsible for maintaining the property throughout the probate process. Expenses can include home loan installments, property taxes and insurance, homeowner's association dues, and necessary maintenance. These expenses can quickly cause financial hardship for the estate if proper estate planning measures are not in place.
Transactional lawyers are a good choice for handling intestate estates; meaning the person died without executing a valid will. Intestate probate is notorious for taking several months to settle. Transactional attorneys can help heirs organize documents, present documents to the court, appoint an estate executor, and represent the family in court.
It is best to interview three or more lawyers during the estate planning process. It is never a good idea to retain the services of probate attorney during the grieving process. However, if this cannot be avoided try to obtain referrals instead of scouting out lawyers on your own.
Estate management fees will vary depending on estate value, inheritance assets, whether the estate is testate or intestate, and how well family members get along. Another factor is state probate laws. Legal fees can be charged at an hourly rate, percentage, or gross value of the estate.
It is imperative to understand legal fees prior to signing a contract. Oftentimes, the majority of the work can be performed by the estate administrator. Executors are compensated for their time and must keep record of time spent working on estate related matters.
Administering an estate can be time consuming and emotionally draining. When designating an estate administrator it is important to choose someone who is good with finances, well organized, and able to work under pressure.
Probate attorneys can help individuals establish strategies to avoid probate altogether. Options include revocable and irrevocable trusts, life insurance trusts, and various other techniques which transfer financial assets and personal property to intended beneficiaries.