What to Expect From a Probate Lawyer

If you are left with the task of admitting a Last Will and Testament to Probate and managing a loved one’s estate, you may have questions about what to expect from a probate lawyer and from the probate process itself. As an estate planning and probate law firm, we are experienced with both the planning and administration of estates. That means we deal with the probate process regularly, while most people only go through it one to three times in their life. It’s not something you do very often, so that’s why we’re here to share our experience with you on everything from hiring a probate attorney to the average cost of probate.

THE PROBATE PROCESS

Probate is the process by which the probate court grants the estate representative the authority to legally represent the estate and act on its behalf. This multi-step process involves:

  • Submitting the Last Will and Testament for review to ensure that it meets the state’s requirements for a validly executed Will,
  • Notifying the decedent’s heirs and creditors that the Will has been submitted,
  • Transferring ownership of decedent’s assets into the name of the estate,
  • Paying all debts and taxes,
  • Distributing the assets to the estate’s heirs and beneficiaries.

WHAT DOES A PROBATE LAWYER DO?

A probate lawyer is not a general practice attorney. A probate attorney specializes in estate administration and is experienced in the probate process. They know the ins and outs of probate and will be able to walk you through it every step of the way. A probate lawyer will:

  • Complete and file the necessary paperwork with the court,
  • Arrange for service to all the necessary parties,
  • Advise you on next steps,
  • Accompany you to necessary court appearances.
  • A full-service representation will also include advising the Executor on how to proceed in representing the estate after they have been appointed.

A PROBATE ATTORNEY’S FEES

A probate lawyer will base their fee on the complexity of your matter and your chosen level of representation. This is largely determined by the number and value of the decedent’s assets, as well as the possibility for conflict among the decedent’s heirs. Some states will limit the amount a probate attorney can charge to a percentage of the value of an estate, while other states place no limits and attorneys will charge an hourly fee for their services.

WHAT TO EXPECT FROM A PROBATE LAWYER’S FULL-SERVICE REPRESENTATION?

If you choose to hire a probate lawyer with a more full-service representation model, they can assist you in identifying estate assets, gathering those assets, filing final income and estate tax returns, paying bills, and making final distributions to heirs. You should be aware that while it can be incredibly helpful to have professional assistance in this arena, many of these tasks—such as contacting banks to gather and transfer assets—are those you would be able to do yourself. You can save yourself and the estate a significant amount on legal fees by taking on some of the work yourself. You should be mindful that attorneys who bill for their services hourly often do so in 15-minute increments; therefore, every phone call made by your probate lawyer can result in a charge to the estate.

WHAT TO EXPECT FROM A PROBATE LAWYER’S LIMITED REPRESENTATION?

You may decide that you have the time to handle these estate tasks personally. If that is the case, you should create an agreement with your probate lawyer about what to expect and agree upon who is handling which tasks. This will prevent duplication of efforts at a financial cost to you and the estate, as well as prevent important tasks from falling through the cracks. In your initial meeting with the probate lawyer, they should be asking you for information about the decedent’s assets, creditors and heirs, but you should have some questions too. We recommend you ask them to educate you about what will be required of you as executor, as well as any other questions you have about the probate process and your loved one’s estate. This will help you tailor your agreement with the attorney to include only those tasks with which you will require assistance.

If you find yourself as the named Executor of an estate, contact the experienced probate attorneys at Dana & Associates, LLC to assist you in beginning the probate process. Our attorneys will take the time to explain the probate process and your role in it, allowing you to make an informed decision about your probate representation needs.