One thing that no one wants to think about is the death of a loved one. Even though it is inevitable, it is something everyone tries to avoid. In an effort to make things easier on your loved ones in the event of your passing, it is crucial that you have a Will in place in order to leave no questions about what you want to be done with your assets once you have passed away, and who you want to leave in charge of carrying out those wishes. However, even with the best of planning, it may be necessary to get some outside help from a lawyer when dealing with the estate of a loved one. So, when should you hire a Probate Lawyer?
If you are in charge of the estate of a deceased person, you may have any questions. You should hire a Probate lawyer immediately if there are any questions as to the validity of the Will, the estate is large and complex, or the monetary value is great. You also have the option of hiring a Probate lawyer for legal advice should you need it later in the process.
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When Do You Hire a Probate Lawyer?
The Executor of an estate may find it easier to handle affairs if they hire a Probate lawyer. A Probate lawyer can offer legal advice to the Executor and assist them in court proceedings and setting the final affairs of the deceased. It is especially recommended to have a Probate lawyer on hand if the estate is large or contested in some way, such as someone arguing the validity of a Will or the distribution of assets should a Will not be present.
If you are aware immediately that any of these circumstances exist, hiring a Probate lawyer at the start of the process is always the best idea. If something were to come up later in the process that you need help dealing with, seeking legal advice is always an option as well, but be prepared for the lawyer to have to do a little bit of backtracking.
What is Probate?
Probate, as a legal term, actually carries two meanings. The first is the legal process of declaring a decedent’s Will to be proved, or a truthful document, of their wishes. This is the point where a person’s Will is deemed to be a binding legal document, and the contents are known to be what the deceased wanted to be done with their estate, as decided before their death. This will typically include the naming of an executor, usually, a lawyer though not always, and the dispersal of property that is left after all debts are settled.
Probate also refers to the legal administration of properties and estates left by those who have not drawn up a Will prior to their death. In this case, Probate is the process of the administration of those estates and the dispersals after debts are paid. This is done by the court system if there is no Will or next of kin to oversee such matters.
What Does a Probate Lawyer Do
A Probate lawyer can handle many roles after the death of a loved one when it comes to their estate. Their roles can vary greatly depending on the circumstances, and if there is a WIll prior to the death. Though many of the roles also overlap despite the presence of a Will.
If the decedent has had a Will made prior to their passing, it does go a long way to laying the groundwork for Probate afterward. In the case that there is a Will in place, the Probate lawyer will begin filing the paperwork to have the Will proved in court, showing it to be a truthful statement of the decedent’s final wishes. Once that process has been completed, the lawyer will then begin the task of inventorying all of the property that belonged to the person for their estate. This includes any bank accounts, real estate, real property such as vehicles, and any other items of monetary value or that are listed in the Will. They will also make note of any debts that were left to be paid, including taxes.
The Probate lawyer will begin the process of settling all debts, including selling assets if necessary to do so in order to pay them. The Probate lawyer will then assist the Executor, or the person who was tasked with the distribution of the inheritance, with the process of disbursing the assets as the Will directed. Depending on the size of the estate, the Probate period can be lengthy, even with a Will in place.
Should there not be a Will, a Probate lawyer can help you navigate the Probate process. They can still assist in the inventorying of the assets and debts, and the establishment of the Estate accounts. Administration of the estate is usually handed over to a family member, appointed by the court, either next of kin, or closest living relative. A Probate lawyer can help with the petition of Probate, to get the administration assigned. A Probate lawyer, if necessary, can also assist in locating next of kin or family members, if any, who would stand to inherit from the decedent.
Related: What Do Probate Lawyers Do?
How Much Does a Probate Lawyer Cost
Of course, whenever the subject of hiring a lawyer comes to mind, one of the first thoughts is how much is it going to cost. While it is important to know what you could be getting into before you start, it is important to know that there are no hard and fast rules about what a lawyer will charge, or how much a particular retainer will cost.
On average, though statistics are difficult to come by, Probate lawyers charge between 1% and 7% of the estate value. Of course, again that is subjective, as lawyers tend to charge by the hour. A very vague estimate suggested that the cost of hiring a Probate Attorney can range greatly, anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000, and maybe more if the estate is large.
It is not difficult to believe that fees could quickly run very high in some cases for a Probate lawyer. Several hours could be spent cataloging assets and possessions, tracking down debtors, appraising the property, settling debts. It could be a massive undertaking under some circumstances.
The one thing that you can depend on before even speaking to a lawyer about your situation is this: the larger and more complex the estate, the more it will cost to hire a Probate lawyer to oversee the process, and also the more likely you are going to have to have one to do it. Complex estates, with multiple assets, high monetary values, and extensive debts will be a minefield for anyone not fiscally and mentally prepared to deal with such a monumental task.
How Do You Make a Will?
Making a Will, especially if there is any question of inheritance or you have a lot of assets, is probably one of the most important things you can do for your family, in order to make taking care of things after your passing just a little bit easier. A Will can be drawn up with the assistance of a lawyer, or you can draw one up yourself, but there are some steps that you will need to complete in order to make an effective Last Will and Testament.
Before you even being writing the Will, you will want to take an inventory of any significant assets that you own. Make note of any other claims on these assets as well. You will then need to decide who will inherit these assets. Though the beneficiary of assets is most of the time not a question, there may be circumstances when it could be a difficult decision, and needs to be thought out carefully. Next, you will need to decide who you will name the Executor of your estate. This is the person who will be responsible for making sure that all outstanding debts are settled, and assets are distributed as you set forth in your Will. If there are minor children, you must make arrangements for guardianship and who will manage any inheritance that they receive until they are of legal age to receive their full inheritance.
When you are ready to begin writing your Will, there are many options available to you. You can hire a lawyer to assist you, you can write a will yourself, or you can use free templates online. Most important is to make sure that the document is clearly labeled as your Last Will and Testament. It is also necessary to ensure that the Will is signed in front of witnesses, who can testify that these are your wishes. A Will can be kept in the writer’s possession, or given to family, and in some places and be filed with the Clerk of Court, where a copy will be kept for easy location in the event of your death.
It is very important that if there are changes to assets, beneficiaries, or circumstances, your Will is updated as soon as possible, in order to make sure that it is as accurate as it can be at the time of your death.
Related: What Do Lawyers Do With Wills?