After the passing of someone close to you, such as a family member or a close friend who asked you to be in charge of his/her estate, one important task among many involves distributing the deceased’s assets in a manner consistent with the wishes of the departed and the requirements of the law. Most people recognize that doing this is beyond what their time and current abilities permit, and retain a probate lawyer to make sure things are handled properly.
At the law offices of JD Milliner & Associates, PC, we’re happy to provide a full range of probate attorney services, handling everything from estate planning, including asset protection, to document evaluation and obtaining proper court appointments, and from assistance with properly identifying estate assets and debts to the appropriate distribution of those assets to “settle” the estate, and, finally, the proper closing of the estate. Those who have never been involved in this process often wonder what do probate attorneys do – and what can be expected from them? Here’s a primer on everything a probate attorney helps handle for you.
Probate Attorney Basics and Definition
To define it as simply as possible, a probate attorney is a lawyer licensed by the state who works with executors (aka “personal representatives”) and/or beneficiaries of a given estate after the passing of a loved one. The term “probate” refers to the official proving of a will in a court with appropriate jurisdiction, essentially establishing its validity and ensuring that both it and state law are complied with fully.
In some cases, probate can be avoided if all the dead person’s assets were already placed in a trust prior to his/her death, which can allow for a simpler, smoother transition of property with no need for courts or legal proceedings. However, most people who have done a trust do not put all of their assets in that trust prior to their deaths, so some form of probate is usually needed. In either case, our attorneys will assist you with everything detail involved.
Tasks Performed by Probate Attorneys
Here are several of the common tasks a probate attorney will carry out for you, though this list is not exhaustive and may include multiple additional areas depending on the circumstances:
- Evaluate relevant estate planning documents, such as wills, trusts, and beneficiary designations for life insurance and financial accounts.
- Identify and help secure estate assets following a death.
- Prepare and file the necessary court documents to obtain/oppose appointment of personal representative (aka executor) and successor trustees, etc.
- Advise and assist in the collection of proceeds from life insurance policies and their proper distribution.
- Advise and assist in identifying the debts of the decedent that need to be paid by the estate prior to distribution of estate assets to beneficiaries.
- Obtain appraisals for any real property left by the decedent as part of the estate.
- Determine if any estate, inheritance or income tax issues are present, and advising and assisting with satisfying such debts if needed.
- General advice and assistance to personal representatives/executors and surviving or successor trustees regarding proper management of the probate and/or trust estate.
- Advise and assist with transferring estate assets to the appropriate beneficiaries and at the appropriate time(s).
- Advise and assist with filing documents with the appropriate court, and appearing at any necessary hearings, to properly “close” the estate.
Probate Attorney vs. Estate Attorney – Are They the Same?
The terms “probate attorney” and “estate attorney” will often be used interchangeably, and it is generally appropriate to do so. An “estate attorney” is usually thought of more as an attorney who engages in estate planning with a person before s/he passes, while a “probate attorney” is usually thought of as an attorney who handles things after person has died. However, most, but not all, attorneys who do estate planning also do probate work. At the law firm of J.D. Milliner & Associates, we do both, and regularly engage in probate and trust litigation on behalf of our clients as necessary to ensure the proper administration and closing of a probate or trust estate.
To learn more about what a probate lawyer can do for you, or for more information on any of our trust, estate and probate services, or on our business law or divorce/custody practice areas, please call the law offices of JD Milliner & Associates, P.C. today.