If you’ve recently lost a loved one or have aging parents, you might have thought or heard about probate court or the process of settling an estate. No one wants to think about the death of a loved one but being prepared for that inevitability can make the legal process of settling their estate just a little bit easier.
One way to prepare yourself for making legal decisions regarding end-of-life matters is by working with an estate probate attorney. This is the only licensed individual qualified to provide expertise in applying the law to your particular situation.
What is an Estate Probate Attorney and How Can They Help?
An estate probate lawyer can wear many hats. Aside from the obvious title, he or she can help you establish and manage an estate plan, provide counsel in probate court, apply legal advice to end-of-life decisions, and establish conservatorships. They can also assist in establishing powers of attorney or serve as an estate administrator.
How Can an Estate Probate Attorney Benefit You?
Assist in the Assessment and Sale of Estate Property
When establishing an estate plan or will, the creator must appoint someone to carry out his or her last wishes. This appointment is known as an executor. An executor is further responsible for finalizing the estate. Finalizing the estate usually consists of:
- Protecting real and personal property
- Distributing assets to beneficiaries
- Paying creditors and taxes from estate proceeds
Probate courts do not require that the executor be a lawyer or CPA; however, it does demand that the appointed person makes decisions based on the highest fiduciary duty towards the individual. If you are appointed to be an executor, you will be expected to act with good faith and fair dealing on their behalf.
As executor of an estate, your job is to marshal the assets, which means gathering the documents that detail what property is owned by the estate, making sure no property has been missed, having the property appraised by the court appointed appraiser, and potentially arranging for the sale of the property. Depending on what type of authority you were granted when appointed, you may or may not have the right to sell assets without court approval
To simplify this process and make sure that you’re following all necessary laws, you can hire an estate probate attorney to help.
Guide You Through the Probate Process
If you find yourself going through the probate court process to settle your loved one’s estate, you need the help of an estate probate attorney.
To find out whether or not you’ll need to go through the court probate process, you can have an estate probate attorney review your loved one’s estate documents. In general, you’ll be required to go through probate if your loved one died intestate or with a will and no trust. Intestate means that your loved one died without a legal will in place.
Distribute Assets to Beneficiaries
Even if your loved one’s will is legally enforceable and all beneficiaries agree to the terms, there’s still a specific process that must be followed before you can distribute the estate’s assets to beneficiaries. This court process takes one to two years to complete in a best case scenario.
Determine and Pay Estate Taxes
Part of the job of the executor is to pay any estate taxes that are owed by the estate. This should be done before distributions are made to the beneficiaries of the estate. An estate probate attorney can help the executor to determine how much estate tax is owed by the estate and how to pay that tax.
As of 2019, the exemption for estate and gift taxes is $11.4 million dollars per person. This means that someone can bequeath $11.4 million dollars to their heirs while simultaneously avoiding estate taxes altogether. A married couple is permitted to claim $22.8 million dollars in estate tax exemptions.
These numbers will increase with inflation of every year through 2025. By working with an estate probate attorney, you can access valuable advice that helps you sift through the best tax strategy for your loved one’s estate or execute the one already in place.
Provide Notification to Creditors of the Decedent’s Death
As part of the administrative duties, the executor must communicate and transmit legal notification of the decedent’s death to known creditors and banks. Lenders normally have a time-limit in which to file their claim against the estate. After approved claims have been finalized, the executor must pay them from the estate proceeds.
However, keep in mind that all claims must be genuine. There are many schemes that criminals use to trick executors into paying phony debts. Plus, some debts could even fall outside of the statute of limitations thereby nullifying the ability to collect. An estate probate attorney can help you validate and manage legitimate claims.
Other Estate Probate Attorney Tasks
While these are some of the main tasks that an estate probate attorney can help you to do when settling a loved one’s estate, there are many other tasks that they can also help with.
An estate probate attorney can also help you with:
- Locating probate and non-probate assets
- Collecting proceeds from life insurance
- Rolling over retirement accounts such as IRAs and 401ks
- Paying the decedent’s final bills and any necessary debts
- Determining whether inheritance tax will need to be paid or not, and if so, how much
- Settling disputes among beneficiaries or a beneficiary and the executor
- Getting court approval for certain acts during the settling of the estate
An estate probate attorney is a knowledgeable person who can help you navigate a complicated and emotional process with a lot less stress.
Hire an Estate Probate Attorney Today
An estate probate attorney can make the process of settling your loved one’s estate simple. You’ll have someone to ask questions of and to advise you on the legality of your actions.
If you are faced with going through the probate process, an estate probate attorney is simply necessary. This legal process can be complicated and having an estate probate attorney by your side can make it just a little simpler.
If you’re interested in hiring an estate probate attorney to help you settle an estate, you can get a free consultation with the Kam Law Firm today.
If you’re interested in creating your will or trust prior to your death, an estate probate attorney can help you do that. An estate probate attorney knows the estate planning checklist ins and outs so you don’t have to worry about what steps comes next or potentially missing a step. By hiring an estate probate attorney, you ensure that your family can avoid the probate process after your death.