Hiring an attorney is good practice for nearly any kind of case that will have to traverse the legal system. Laws vary from state to state and they can change, or be revised, often. It is difficult to stay on top of all one would need to steer successfully through any kind of case that needs to be heard in a court of law.
In Florida, in particular, a lawyer is a requirement for anyone having to go through a probate process. It’s a good requirement because there is so much to know and during the time when a probate process likely happens, you’re also dealing with the loss of a loved one. No one should have to go through this time alone.
Do I need a probate lawyer?
This is a question you are likely to ask yourself when you are set to inherit an estate or need to handle one for family or a friend. Before heirs or beneficiaries benefit from the property left by the decedent, the Will must go through the probate process.
In situations where the decedent’s estate owes taxes or the Will is contested by family members, the probate process can become tricky. You might ask, What does a probate attorney do? A probate lawyer is experienced in all the steps to the probate process and can help you successfully navigate the route.
How Does Probate Work?
After a person dies, a probate court has to verify the validity of their Will, and the executor has to distribute the assets to heirs named in the Will. This is what is called the probate process. In case there is no Will, the probate process is used to identify the decedent’s assets and determine the legal heirs of those assets.
The Will often names the executor of the estate. But if there is no Will, the court appoints an administrator who takes on the responsibilities of the executor. An heir needs to file a petition in probate court for the probate process to begin.
In most cases, the probate process takes about six months, but if the Will is contested, it may take as long as a year.
Hiring a Probate Lawyer
Hiring a lawyer in any legal situation is useful because the lawyer is more familiar with state and federal laws and knows how the probate process works. But you may only need to hire a lawyer if the estate assets you are handling are unusual or the estate is too large. You may not need a lawyer if most of the points below apply to you:
- Assets of the deceased person can be transferred outside probate. For example, assets owned by more than one person and community property do not need to go through probate.
- The estate qualifies for “small estate” procedures.
- All the family members accept the Will and no one is threatening to sue over how the estate is distributed.
- The estate has enough money to pay debts, such as income taxes, expenses of the last illness, and funerary costs.
- The estate is too small to owe federal or estate taxes.
- The estate contains only common assets, such as household goods, cars, a house, and bank or brokerage accounts.
Situations Where You Need a Lawyer
Besides that, your lawyer can help you identify and secure probate assets and ensure that the property of the deceased is appraised. He or she can also help see to it that all the necessary matters are handled appropriately. A lawyer with experience should be like having a trusted friend on your side.
A lawyer wouldn’t need to do this when there is a Will because the Will lists all the assets in the estate and names an executor. Your lawyer can also:
- Advise you on how to handle federal estate taxes, bills, and debts that the decedent owed
- Help you file all documents required by the probate court
- Help settle disputes between heirs and personal representatives
- Assist you in distributing the decedent’s assets to heirs
If you find yourself in the middle of trying to handle what to do with an estate after someone dies, it’s likely to be an emotional time. A probate lawyer can make it easier for you to go through the probate process as you grieve. Elder Law, P.A. has helped see many individuals through the probate process.
In the State of Florida, it is required that you have legal counsel and are represented by a licensed Florida attorney when going through the probate process. Legal counsel can help offer the decedent’s personal representative incalculable advice on how best to steer a course through the legal system. Contact us today to learn more and speak to an expert.