Probate law governs the legal process through which the assets and liabilities of an individual are managed and distributed after their death. A probate lawyer, also known as an estate lawyer or estate attorney, specializes in assisting the executors of estates and the beneficiaries with guiding an estate through the probate process.
Here’s a detailed overview of what probate law encompasses and what a probate lawyer does:
Validating the Will: One of the first tasks in the probate process is to determine the validity of the deceased person’s will, if one exists.
Identifying Assets: A probate lawyer helps in identifying and appraising the deceased person’s assets that are subject to probate.
Settling Debts and Taxes: The deceased person’s liabilities, including outstanding debts and taxes, need to be paid before assets can be distributed to beneficiaries. A probate lawyer ensures these obligations are properly addressed.
Distributing Assets: Once all debts and taxes are settled, the remaining assets are distributed as specified in the will or, if there is no will, according to state intestacy laws. The probate lawyer oversees this process.
Representing Clients in Probate Court: If disputes arise among beneficiaries or between beneficiaries and the executor, the matter may need to be resolved in probate court. A probate lawyer provides representation in these instances.
Advising on Estate Taxes: Some estates might be subject to federal or state estate taxes. Probate lawyers can provide guidance on these tax implications and help ensure proper filings.
Handling Will Contests: If someone challenges the validity of the will, it’s known as a “will contest.” A probate lawyer can defend the will’s validity or represent those contesting it.
Managing Estates Without Wills: If someone dies without a will (intestate), their estate will still go through the probate process. Probate lawyers help navigate this situation, ensuring assets are distributed in accordance with state laws.
Guardianship Issues: In cases where the deceased person had minor children or dependents, a probate lawyer can assist in establishing legal guardianship if it wasn’t specified in the will.
Drafting Documents: Probate lawyers often prepare necessary documents, file petitions, and provide other paperwork required by the probate court.
Advising on Trusts: If the deceased person had established any trusts, a probate lawyer might also get involved in managing or distributing these trusts or addressing related disputes.
Probate law ensures that an individual’s estate is appropriately managed and distributed after their death. A probate lawyer guides clients through this process, ensuring compliance with all legal requirements, providing advice, and representing their interests in any disputes or court proceedings.
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