| Read Time: 3 minutes | Probate

With all the online resources in the modern age you might wonder, Why would you need a probate attorney?

Probate lawyers provide many valuable services, including knowledge of the probate system and how to navigate it. Going through probate without a lawyer is challenging on the best days, and few are at their best after losing a loved one.

Without a probate attorney, you will need to manage the estate on your own, including: 

  • Opening it, 
  • Locating and notifying interested parties, 
  • Responding to any challenges, 
  • Satisfying debts, 
  • Distributing assets, and
  • Closing the estate.

A probate attorney can guide you through each of these steps, and relying on a probate attorney brings peace of mind and minimizes the stress of the situation. The Law Office of Andrew M. Lamkin can provide you with legal knowledge and peace of mind through the steadfast support of a lawyer with nearly two decades of probate experience. 

What Does a Probate Lawyer Do?

Narrowly, probate is determining whether a will is valid. Broadly, probate is the process of managing the estate of someone who dies, known as a decedent. Probate lawyers guide you through both.

Probate Generally

There is a significant overlap between probate involving a will and probate lacking one. Every estate must have a personal representative responsible for managing the decedent’s estate. The representative has many responsibilities, like:

  • Bringing the will to court (if one exists),
  • Inventorying assets and liabilities,
  • Notifying will beneficiaries, potential heirs, and creditors about the probate action,
  • Evaluating and satisfying creditors’s claims, and
  • Distributing assets. 

The court may require the representative to pay a bond, ensuring they perform their responsibilities faithfully and efficiently.

When you hire a probate lawyer, they help you with every step of this process. They can help you establish or contest the validity of a will, determine who the decedent’s heirs are, contact those heirs, notify potential creditors, determine the validity of creditors’ claims, and distribute estate assets. When necessary, they also help you gather evidence, put together a legal argument, and present it in court.

Probate with a Will

When a decedent leaves a will, they typically appoint an executor as the estate’s personal representative. If the appointed individual cannot or will not serve as executor, the probate court can appoint an alternative.

Having an attorney is especially essential if anyone challenges the will’s validity. Common challenges include:

  • The decedent executed the will improperly;
  • The decedent lacked testamentary intent when they created the will; and
  • Someone caused the decedent to create the will through undue influence.

Your lawyer can help you decide whether to challenge a will you find concerning and help you defend against will challenges.

Probate Without a Will

When a decedent does not leave a will, their estate passes through intestate succession. Spouses and children are typically favored to take estate assets. If the decedent left no spouse or children, you move out step-by-step on their family tree until you find surviving relatives. Most states set a cutoff point at either the decedent’s grandparents’ descendants (e.g., aunts, uncles, first cousins) or great-grandparents’ descendants (e.g., great aunts, great uncles, second cousins). If no relatives survive the decedent, the estate typically becomes county property.

Estates without a will are managed by a personal representative called an administrator. Almost anyone can volunteer as an administrator, but state law typically prefers spouses and close relatives. The administrator must frequently do the heavy lifting to inventory assets and liabilities and identify heirs.

What to Expect from a Probate Attorney

Hiring a lawyer can be understandably intimidating. Knowing what to expect can help ease the stress.

You typically first speak with a firm staff member, who will schedule a time to discuss your case with a lawyer. You will want to gather relevant documents to bring to this meeting. In probate cases, the will is often the most essential document. 

The lawyer will ask questions about your needs at the meeting and explain their services and fees. If you want to hire the lawyer, you sign paperwork making the relationship official and may pay an upfront fee.

Then, the lawyer gets to work. They coordinate the probate process with you, helping you with every step. When the case ends, you pay what you owe the lawyer and, if all goes well, go your separate ways.

Do You Need a Probate Lawyer?

Navigating probate without a probate lawyer can be an exceedingly challenging prospect. Probate law is frequently dense, complex, and full of unfamiliar words. Although you can go through probate without a lawyer, we do not recommend it for any but the simplest of estates. The Law Office of Andrew M. Lamkin has the knowledge and experience to guide you through probate, allowing you to focus on healing from your loss. Reach out today to set up a time to discuss your case.

Author Photo

Andrew Lamkin is principal in the law firm of Andrew M. Lamkin, P.C., where he focuses his practice in the areas of elder law, estate planning and special needs planning, including Wills and Trusts, Medicaid planning, estate administration and residential real estate transactions. He is admitted to practice law in New York and New Jersey.

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