Probate, the process of validating a will and distributing assets, is a fairly common legal proceeding. Nevertheless, it can be valuable to hire a probate lawyer to help make it more manageable for you and your family.
Read on to learn more about probate lawyers, what they do, and why it might be a smart choice to hire one.
What is a probate lawyer?
A probate lawyer is a type of lawyer who helps the executor of estate, or the beneficiaries of an estate, get through the probate process. They may simply serve as advisors, or they can take a more hands-on approach to the administration of the estate by distributing assets and inheritances.1 The role of a probate lawyer will depend on the specific circumstances of an estate.
Probate lawyer vs. estate planning attorney
A probate lawyer and an estate planning attorney both practice under estate law, but there’s a major difference between the two. A probate lawyer works with a family to settle an estate after they’ve lost their loved one, while an estate planning attorney works with living clients to help them plan their estate. In some circumstances, a probate lawyer can also act as an estate lawyer.2
What does a probate lawyer do?
A probate lawyer's main responsibility is to help families settle the estates of their deceased loved ones. This can be done in several different ways.
Some common duties a probate lawyer may perform include:
- Identifying and creating an inventory of estate assets
- Managing the estate’s finances
- Collecting on life insurance policies
- Overseeing property appraisals
- Preparing and filling out official court documents
- Paying any outstanding debts
- Offering legal advice
- Locating the deceased's will
- Paying any estate and income taxes
- Transferring assets to the appropriate parties
How much does a probate lawyer cost?
Typically, probate lawyers either charge by the hour or a flat fee. In some states, lawyers charge by a percentage of the estate’s value.3
The exact amount you’ll pay depends on the lawyer's experience, the location of the estate, the complexity of the estate, and the length of the probate process — among other things.
Keep in mind that the deceased's estate often pays for the probate lawyer. Neither the executor of estate, heirs, or beneficiaries will pay for the lawyer out of pocket.
Why may you need a probate attorney?
Not everyone tasked with settling the estate of a loved one will need to hire a probate lawyer. The decision to use a probate lawyer, or any other type of professional, will depend on the specific needs of the estate.
To determine if you’ll need to hire a probate lawyer, ask yourself the following questions:
- Can the estate be distributed without probate?
- Have you settled an estate before?
- Does your state offer some probate shortcuts?
- Are family members getting along with each other?
- Is your state’s probate process relatively simple?
- Does the estate have only common assets?
- Does the estate have sufficient funds to pay debts?
If you answered “no” to some or all of these questions, you may want to consider hiring a probate lawyer to assist with the administration of your loved one’s estate. And for added preparation, consider purchasing legal insurance. This type of insurance provides you with a network of lawyers that can assist with estate planning.