What Are Probate Lawyers
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Probate lawyers are attorneys who have specialized knowledge and experience working with wills, estates, trusts, and estate administration. Probate attorneys work in a detailed area of the law to help people create wills, plan their estates, create trusts, and do other types of advanced planning. They also represent executors and estates, making sure wills are probated correctly and helping to distribute assets after someone dies.
What Does a Probate Lawyer Do?
Your probate lawyer begins the legal process by filing the will with the court, or, if there is no will, by asking the court to appoint the next of kin as the “administrator” who is then charged with handling the estate according to that state’s laws including intestacy laws – that is, who is to inherit in the absence of a will. If a will exists, the court must evaluate the will and determine if it was properly signed by the testator and witnessed according to state law. On occasion, depending again on state law, it may be necessary to call witnesses during this process, and the people who witnessed the will may have to testify and it may also be necessary to conduct a hearing about the mental abilities of the testator at the time the will was executed. The probate attorney handles all of this.
In some situations, people may file to contest a will, claiming the will is invalid, or that it was not properly executed or that it was the product of undue influence or coercion of the deceased. In these instances, a trial may be necessary, and an experienced probate lawyer will handle all of these concerns.
During the probate process, the executor or administrator must account for all of the deceased’s assets and in some states file a complete inventory with the court. The probate lawyer must also help the executor investigate, obtain and organize all of the bills of the estate, such as outstanding bills from before the person died as well as bills that become due after the death, including costs involved in maintaining a home during the probate process or appraisals to determine the value of some items. The probate attorney also advises the executor or administrator about tax issues – including the need to determine whether income tax returns, estate tax returns, and inheritance tax returns need to be filed.
Probate lawyers also guide executors and administrators who have the responsibility of distributing the assets to the heirs once the probate process is concluded and ensuring that everyone gets what they are entitled to under the will.
In addition to wills, probate lawyers also handle the estates of people who die without wills. In these situations, their assets are distributed according to state intestacy laws. Probate attorneys also create and administer living trusts, special legal entities set up to manage assets during life and then distribute them after death, outside the reach of the probate court.
Why Should You Hire a Probate Lawyer?
The probate process is a complex one that is overseen by a specialized court that focuses almost entirely on probate cases. It also can include very significant tax issues that can arise even in relatively modest probate cases. If your loved one dies with any significant assets, you need to hire a probate attorney to make sure everything is handled correctly. In any case involving a trust, substantial assets, a surviving spouse who is not a US citizen, or questions about the validity of a will, it is essential to have a knowledgeable probate attorney. Probate attorneys are familiar with the intricacies of state laws. They can smoothly move a will through probate, solving any problems that could come up. Probate attorneys are also knowledgeable about estate tax laws and ensure that required taxes are paid and that the executor or administrator does not become personally liable for those obligations and that the estate does not overpay.
What are Probate Fees and Costs?
There are probate court fees established by the state for filing probate cases – some states have significant fees, others, less so. Probate lawyers also charge fees for their services. The size of the legal fees corresponds to the size and complexity of the case. In some states, probate lawyer fees must be approved by the court. There may also be fees for accountants, appraisals, and surety bonds during the probate process.
What Should You Ask When Hiring a Probate Lawyer?
The most important question to ask is about the lawyer’s experience. How many probate cases has he or she handled in the past year? How many estates of this size has he or she dealt with in the last year? You will also want to ask about the fees, the expected completion time for the case, how often you should expect to hear from the attorney, and what if anything, you will need to do for the case to move forward. Be sure to choose an attorney you feel comfortable with and whom you trust.
When you need probate lawyers in New Jersey, give us a call at 201-488-4644 or contact us using the form below.