Losing a loved one is always a difficult experience. Processing your grief is an extreme feat in itself; one that is exacerbated by the responsibility of managing an estate in the midst of heightened emotions.
Probate, or the legal process of analyzing the will and distributing the assets of a deceased person, is likely the last thing you want to think about when you’re grieving. However, it’s a necessary step that will allow you to carry out the final wishes of your loved one.
For assistance during this process, many people choose to hire a probate lawyer. Read on to learn more about probate lawyers and find out if you should hire one to guide you.
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What is a Probate Lawyer?
Probate lawyers—also known as probate attorneys—are legal professionals who are specially licensed to guide the executor or beneficiaries of a will through the process of settling the estate. They may represent a beneficiary of the will or work on behalf of the estate itself.
If you choose to hire a probate lawyer, they’ll assist you in a number of ways throughout the legal proceedings. This includes things like taking inventory of estate assets, paying estate debts and facilitating the distribution and settlement of estate property.
Probate lawyers may also be involved in the estate planning process, in which case they’ll take on key roles such as creating a will and setting up guardianships or trusts. However, these services often come with added fees, so it is common for attorneys to work with families exclusively to settle the estate.
While legal proceedings such as probate can often be complicated in their own right, grief can make the process seem nearly impossible to work through. Aside from providing key services and information, probate lawyers are often invaluable simply for the fact that they’ll shoulder the legal burden, allowing you the space you need to heal.
The Difference Between Probate and Estate Planning Lawyers
If you plan to hire an attorney to help you through the probate process, it’s essential to understand the difference between probate and estate planning lawyers.
Estate planning lawyers work exclusively to organize a person’s estate before their passing. They’ll supply services such as drafting a will and helping to select the right executor.
On the other hand, probate lawyers work to organize an estate after the person has passed. While a probate lawyer can double as an estate planner, their expertise lies in administering a will and facilitating the distribution of assets among beneficiaries.
What Does a Probate Lawyer Do?
Once someone passes, their estate assets must be divided as stipulated within their will. Most states have strict laws when it comes to facilitating a will, which can be difficult to understand if you aren’t already familiar with them. For this reason, probate lawyers are often necessary to organize an estate while adhering to state regulations.
A probate lawyer will assume responsibility for a wide range of tasks. Some of these services include:
- Collecting life insurance policy proceeds
- Determining the cost of inheritance taxes and paying them
- Determining and paying both estate and income taxes
- Identifying all estate assets and conducting any necessary appraisals
- Distributing assets once bills and taxes have been paid
- Opening and managing a checking account for the estate
- Settling all debts and outstanding bills
- Preparing and filing all legal documents
- Retitling assets in beneficiaries’ names
If the estate of the deceased person had been placed in a trust before their death, there will be no need to go through legal proceedings to distribute assets. In this case, you may not even need to go through probate, though a probate lawyer may still be able to give you valuable guidance.
By taking on responsibility for such a large number of services, probate lawyers often prove to be an essential resource for those who are dealing with the death of a loved one; particularly if you are inexperienced when it comes to managing an estate plan.
The Cost of Hiring a Probate Lawyer
The cost of hiring a probate lawyer will vary based on a variety of factors, including the state you live in and the size of the estate. Some lawyers charge a flat fee for their services, while others charge an hourly rate.
Some states allow probate lawyers to charge a percentage of value fee, meaning their cost will vary depending on the value of the estate. Currently, seven states permit this kind of charge, including:
For example, if the estate in question is located in Florida, the percentage of value fees look like this:
- $1,500 – $3,000 for estates valuing between $40,000 and $99,999
- 3% for estates valuing between $100,000 and $900,000
- 2.5% for estates valuing between $1 million and $3 million
- 2% for estates valuing between $3 million and $5 million
- 1.5% for estates valuing between $5 million and $10 million
Percentage of value fees also vary from state to state. For those in California, these fees look like this:
- 4% for estates valuing up to $100,000
- 3% of the next $100,000
- 2% of the next $800,000
- 1% of the next $9 million
- 1.5% of the next $15 million
- A “reasonable percentage” for estates that value over $25 million
Do You Need a Probate Lawyer?
Deciding whether or not to hire a probate lawyer can be a tough decision. If you’re already familiar with the probate process, you may be able to manage the estate on your own. However, there are some cases where the knowledge that a professional can bring will prove invaluable.
Here are some situations where it’s a good idea to turn to a probate lawyer for help.
When There is No Will
A study conducted by AARP found that 60% of Americans lack adequate will or estate planning. That shocking number is expected to rise even further, as younger Americans become less and less inclined to develop an estate plan.
If your loved one passed without writing a will, their wishes and stipulations will not be taken into consideration during the estate settling process. Instead, assets will be divided according to state laws, which vary greatly.
In these cases, a probate lawyer can still be hired to assist the administrator of the estate. They will still perform all of their regular duties, simply adhering to state rules rather than the stipulations of a will.
When There is a Will
The probate process can be challenging to manage even if your loved one has left a will behind. While you’ll have the stipulations of the will to guide you, it may be hard to keep track of necessary payments while distributing assets and adhering to state regulations.
Probate lawyers are valuable partners to have in these cases. A probate lawyer will analyze the will, handle necessary payments and distribute assets so you don’t have to. In tense times of grief, these services can give you a brief respite to the process of settling an estate.
For Large Estates
Even if you’re already familiar with the probate process and laws within your state, large estates can make things complicated. If there are numerous debts to settle and assets to distribute, hiring a probate lawyer is the easiest way to navigate the process smoothly.
To Handle Beneficiary Disputes
Unfortunately, not every family gets along without issues, especially during times of heightened emotions. Luckily, there is a way to settle an estate while keeping tensions low. A probate lawyer will act only on behalf of the deceased and can guide you through the process in a matter than is fair to all beneficiaries.
Selling a Home After Losing a Loved One
It’s common for beneficiaries to inherit a home after their loved one has passed. Though it is an emotional decision to come to, most heirs choose to sell the home for numerous reasons.
In many cases, these homes become an additional hassle for the grieving family—especially if they are old and in need of significant repairs. Additionally, many people do not have the financial means to manage an additional home and will benefit more greatly from selling it.
Luckily, there is a way to rid yourself of an unwanted home fast, no matter how many repairs or upgrades it needs. With iBuyer, you can access a group of buyers and investors who are ready to buy your home quickly. To get started, simply use the free home appraisal tool to find out what your property is worth, and wait for the offers to come in.
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