What You Need to Know
Generally speaking, probate lawyers -- also called estate or trust lawyers -- help executors of the estate (or "administrators," if there is no will) manage the probate process. They also may help with estate planning, such as the drafting of wills or living trusts; advise on powers of attorney; or even serve as an executor or administrator. If an individual dies with a will, a probate lawyer may be hired to advise parties such as the executor of the estate or a beneficiary on various legal matters. For instance, an attorney may review the will to ensure the will wasn't signed or written under duress (or against the best interests of the individual).
A probate attorney may be responsible for performing any of the following tasks when advising an executor:
- Collecting and managing life insurance proceeds
- Getting the decedent's property appraised
- Finding and securing all of the decedent's assets
- Advising on how to pay the decedent's bills and settle debts
- Preparing/filing documents as required by probate court
- Managing the estate's checkbook
- Determining whether any estate taxes are owed
If the person dies without having written and signed a will, you are said to have died "intestate." When this happens, your estate is distributed according to the intestacy laws of the state where the property resides, regardless of your wishes. For instance, the surviving spouse receives all of your intestate property under many states' intestate laws. However, intestacy laws vary widely from state to state. In these situations, a probate lawyer may be hired to assist the administrator of the estate (similar to the executor) and the assets will be distributed according to state law. A probate lawyer may help with some of the tasks listed above but is bound by state intestacy laws, regardless of the decedent's wishes or the family members' needs. A relative who wants to be the estate's administrator must first secure what are called "renunciations" from the decedent's other relatives. A renunciation is a legal statement renouncing one's right to administer the estate. A probate attorney can help secure and file these statements with probate court, and then assist the administrator with the probate process (managing the estate checkbook, determining estate taxes, securing assets, etc.). You can look up the contact information and location of Probate, Estate, Will and Trust attorneys in your geographical area. Please search by zip code in the US or by city/country abroad.
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