Do I Need a Probate Attorney?

It is often a good idea to hire one if you have real property, creditors, or multiple heirs to deal with.

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Probate is the process of managing and finalizing your estate after your death. During this legal process, the court oversees your executor or administrator who will pay debts, find heirs, and distribute your property according to your wishes.

You should understand there are situations where probate can become problematic. Someone may contest your estate plan or it may have debts that require attention, and you will not be there to clear things up. In these situations, it is helpful to have a probate attorney who can guide the process and look out for the well-being of your estate.

Questions You Should Ask Before Hiring a Lawyer

Before you hire a probate lawyer, you should assess your situation to ensure that you need to hire one. You want to go over your estate and its details to see if there are situations in which an attorney would be helpful.

Ask yourself if you have a small or large estate. A larger estate has more potential for complexities. It might help to secure legal assistance to ensure that it is all in order. A smaller estate may be so simple that there is little chance that issues will come up, so hiring an attorney may not make sense.

You should also assess whether your estate will even need to go through probate. There is no need in some cases, and state laws may allow for your estate to bypass the process if it is small enough and there is no real estate involved.

Also, consider if there are issues within your family that could come up during probate. Is it likely that someone will contest your estate or not agree with the decisions you made? Are you making decisions that could take someone by surprise? If you answer yes to these questions, a probate attorney could be helpful.

What Does a Probate Attorney Do?

Knowing what a probate attorney does will enable you to make a better decision about hiring one. A probate lawyer is essentially an estate lawyer. He or she works for you on behalf of your estate. You can work with the attorney to get your estate in order to avoid problems with probate, but much of his or her work occurs after your death.

At that time, the attorney will assist with various activities to help close your estate. He or she will prepare legal documents and assist with the transfer of assets to your heirs while maintaining the legal requirements to make sure the estate administration goes smoothly.

The attorney will work closely with your executor or administrator and will resolve tasks that your representative may not be knowledgeable in handling. The lawyer will also offer legal advice to your representative about estate matters.

When You Need a Probate Attorney

There are some situations in which it becomes apparent that you will need a probate attorney. However, you may still find yourself unsure as to whether you really need a probate attorney. You may need a probate attorney if any of these scenarios apply.

Can the Deceased Party’s Assets Be Transferred Outside of Probate?

If your assets will transfer on death, either through a trust or other similar account, then there really is nothing left to go through probate. So, make sure to thoroughly audit your estate plan to look at each asset and the legal process of transfer.

Do keep in mind that even if you only have a few assets that will not automatically transfer, those will still have to go through probate, and there is always a potential for issues. So, unless your whole estate bypasses probate, you should consider an attorney.

Is the Estate Big Enough to Pay Off All Existing Debts?

Debt is often a complication during probate. Even after death, your creditors want their money. According to the Washington State Legislature, the probate court must ensure your estate pays off outstanding debts when possible.

You may need a probate attorney if you have concerns about paying off your debts. If your estate may not be large enough to cover all your debts, it could cause problems in probate. Furthermore, there may end up being problems with your heirs and creditors that require the assistance of an attorney.

Does the Estate Owe Federal Estate Taxes?

Taxes are another debt that needs careful handling in probate. You may need an attorney if you have a large federal estate tax. This typically is not a concern unless you have an extensive estate worth millions of dollars because the limit for this tax is rather high.

Are Family Members Getting Along?

One of the most common reasons for issues in probate is family members who are not happy with your decisions. If you have turmoil in your family, such as family members who do not talk or who often have disagreements, then you may want to hire an attorney who can help keep the focus of probate on track and who can ensure your family doesn’t try to override your wishes.

The Bottom Line

Why would you need a probate attorney? You probably have a better idea of the answer to that question now that you understand what such an attorney does and the situations with which he or she can assist. If you still wonder, “do I need a probate attorney,” then you may need to take more time to assess your situation.

Usually, by looking over your estate, considering your heirs and debts, and being honest with yourself about what is likely to occur after your death, you can easily come up with the answer that is best for you. If it turns out hiring an attorney is the right decision for you, contact Skyview Law for expert advice and peace of mind.