According to statistics, 54% of Americans don’t have a will.
If a loved one passes away without a will or testament, this can make the estate disbursement process quite complicated. Even if your loved one has a will, settling their estate can be an intricate task, full of administrative and legal hoops that pretty much no one wants to jump through, especially after a loss in the family.
This is why probate lawyer firms exist. To help families navigate the estate process, and ensure that the deceased person’s wishes are carried out in accordance with the law. In some states, probate lawyers are legally required by the court. In others, you have the option to hire or forgo a probate attorney.
Either way, having a probate lawyer on your side can be absolutely invaluable, and save you vast amounts of stress—at a time when you’re least equipped to deal with it.
If you’re not sure what a probate attorney is, or whether you need to hire one, keep reading to find out everything you need to know about the role of a probate lawyer.
What Does a Probate Lawyer Do?
Probate lawyers are there to assist you with handling all of the legal and administrative aspects of dispersing an estate. When a loved one passes away, someone has to take on the role of personal representative. This is also known as the executor of the estate.
A loved one’s will might stipulate a specific person to act as the personal representative, or the court might appoint the most suitable person. Personal representatives are usually next of kin family members or trusted individuals, such as a family lawyer.
The person who has to act as the personal representative is then responsible for orchestrating the administration of the estate. These duties can include:
- Identifying and securing assets
- Securing assets
- Collecting payouts from life insurance policies
- Getting appraisals for real estate property in the estate
- Preparing and filing all of the probate documents required by the court
- Ascertaining if estate or inheritance taxes are due and calculating these
- Satisfying inheritance or estate tax debts
- Handling income tax issues
- Transferring assets into the beneficiary’s names
- Managing the checking account of the estate
- Making payments to creditors
- Negotiating debts
- Distributing assets to beneficiaries
- Managing any disputes of the estate
Most people aren’t fully equipped to carry out these duties, especially if they are under emotional duress or if the estate is complex. Here are some of the reasons why you might need a probate lawyer to assist you.
A Probate Lawyer Can Save You Stress at a Difficult Time
One of the biggest advantages of hiring a probate lawyer is that they can save you stress and anxiety. When a loved one passes away, there’s a good chance that you’ll already be pushed to your mental and emotional limits from coping with the loss.
Dealing with the legal and administrative intricacies of administering an estate is the last thing just about anyone usually feels capable of doing after losing someone close to them. An estate lawyer can handle all of the legwork and help you navigate all the legal aspects of the probate process.
While they take care of all the filing, asset processes, tax tasks, and any potential contestations, you can take the time out that you need to manage the stages of grief and loss.
The Probate Process May Require Personal Representatives to Hire an Attorney
Certain states require personal representatives to hire a probate attorney. Florida is one of these states. Unless you are the sole beneficiary of the estate, you will, by Florida state law, need to engage a probate lawyer to assist you.
Even if your state does not require you to hire a probate lawyer, it might still be a good idea to engage one, no matter how simple the estate might seem.
Probate Processes Can Be Complicated
One of the reasons why Florida requires personal representatives to hire an estate lawyer is that probate processes can be complex. This is especially so if your loved one didn’t create a will. According to reports, the pandemic has triggered more people to draft wills, however, there are still many people who either postpone the task or feel their assets aren’t significant enough to warrant a will.
Even if an estate seems simple at the outset, there can be a number of issues that crop up during administration. These could be things like tax issues, contestations from family members or other beneficiaries, missteps in the probate process, or issues with the drafting of the will.
Florida’s probate process is an especially intricate one. The main reason for this is that Florida’s probate system is highly protective of the rights of beneficiaries and creditors.
Besides this, it also has some legal “dead wood” that makes the probate process more complicated than it needs to be.
For instance, if a will is proved by oath of a witness who is not close to the court, this oath must be signed before a notary. The law also requires that the notary be named in a petition filed to the court. The court must then issue a “Commission” to the notary.
Besides these legal obstacles, you can also encounter complications with the accounting side of administering an estate. If you make any mistakes, this can result in personal liability.
For instance, if you accidentally understate taxes, pay creditors or beneficiaries the wrong amount (or in the incorrect order), or don’t get court authority before taking certain steps in the process, you will be personally liable for these mistakes.
How to Find a Good Probate Attorney
If you need to hire a probate attorney, it can pay to shop around. You can start by doing an online search and checking the reviews for probate attorneys in your area.
Once you meet with a potential probate lawyer, make sure you verify whether they specialize in probate. You don’t want a jack-of-all-trades attorney assisting you, you want an attorney who’s versed and experienced in probate law.
Take some time to analyze the overall professionalism of the firm, the state of their premises, and any ratings they might have with organizations like the BBB.
Also, make sure you get clear on their fee structure and pick a lawyer who communicates well and who you get along with.
Are You in Need of a Trustworthy Probate Lawyer?
Are you in need of a probate lawyer to help you administer a loved one’s estate? If so, it’s very important that you hire a probate lawyer you can trust to handle everything in a seamless and timely manner.
Here at Boyer Law Firm, one of our areas of legal specialty is probate law. Our Jacksonville lawyer teams are highly experienced and can be relied on to handle every detail.
Contact us today to receive compassionate, competent service.