No words can describe how difficult it is to lose a loved one. Between handling the funeral to dealing with grief, there’s a set of challenges that comes with a person’s passing. However, disputing over money or property shouldn’t be one of them, and no family should deal with this kind of stress.
Hiring a probate lawyer can help you avoid many of the issues associated with probating a will. But even if there’s no will, a probate lawyer can still help surviving family members settle the debts and distribute the assets of their departed. Before you hire a probate attorney, here are five essential steps to take.
1. Research about probate.
Like all other legal processes, probate involves terms and procedures that some people may find confusing. For example, you might not know the difference between a living trust and a will. That is why it’s crucial to do some homework before hiring and meeting with a probate lawyer. Dedicate some of your free time to learn about probate.
Try to understand how the process works, what a probate lawyer does and what they’re responsible for, and what parts of the proceeding you can take care of yourself. The more knowledgeable you are, the more likely you’ll ask precise and efficient questions at the first meeting. You’ll be able to make the most out of your time with the probate lawyer and save money on the attorney’s hourly fees.
2. Assess your situation and find out if you can avoid probate.
Once you understand what probate is, you’ll have a clear picture of whether your situation calls for a probate lawyer’s help. Although it’s always a good idea to call in the experts when dealing with legal issues, it’s not always necessary to hire one. Not to mention, probate can be very time consuming and costly. The whole process is complex and can induce so much stress. You wouldn’t want to waste your precious time, money, and energy, only to find out that you could have saved yourself from the trouble.
So before you hire a probate attorney, assess your situation first. Use your newfound knowledge about the process and see if you can avoid probate and keep the proceeding private and out of the court system. Probate is usually taken when handling large, complex estates that include large sums of money, multiple assets, and property. If the departed made a simple will that left most possessions to family and friends, then probate may not be necessary. By avoiding probate, you can settle the will quickly and easily and pay fewer legal fees and taxes.
3. Get ready for potential family resistance.
Due to how complex and stressful the probate process is, there’s a high chance that it could cause serious family disputes. Some family members might believe they have beneficiary rights even when their claim doesn’t align with what’s written in the will. Their greed and entitlement will lead them to pick apart and question even the most detailed wills.
As the executor of the will, you’ll most likely be in the middle of the war. If you sense that there would be trouble ahead, it’s vital to share this information with your lawyer. While you can’t control how other family members will react, knowing there could be potential resistance would better prepare you and your probate attorney. You can think up all the ways you’ll be able to support what’s outlined in the will, like providing all necessary documents.
4. Gather all the important documents.
The whole probate process doesn’t fall entirely on the shoulders of the lawyer. The executor of the will has the responsibility to gather all the important documents. You need to deliver the necessary and vital details to the table so that the probate lawyer can better understand the estate.
Here are several documents that you should bring during the first meeting:
- Copies of the death certificate
- The last will and testament (and any codicils)
- Copies of living trust documents (if there are any)
- Copies of any documents from the probate court
- Recent financial statements from the deceased
- Copies of any bills they owe
- A list of their assets
- Copies of any gift tax returns
- A list of the names, addresses, and contact information of all beneficiaries
It’s okay if you don’t have all these documents readily available at your first meeting. But the more prepared you are, the fewer questions your probate attorney will have.
5. Make a list of questions to ask the probate lawyer.
Another goal of the initial meeting is to decide whether to hire that probate lawyer. But before you could tell if they’re the right lawyer for your case, you need to know more about them and their service. The first meeting can be overwhelming, so it’s best to prepare a list of questions to ask them.
Here are sample questions to ask a probate lawyer:
- How many years have you been working as a probate lawyer?
- What kind of probate-related services do you offer?
- Do you have experience handling probate court proceedings that oversee the deceased’s estate?
- How will you handle this probate case? Can you walk me through the process?
- How much do you charge for your service? Can you provide an estimate of the total bill?
Handling the death of a loved one is never easy. But it can even be more emotionally and physically draining when you’re entrusted to carry out their final wishes. At times like this, hiring a probate lawyer can help ease your mind. But before contacting one, there are a few steps to take to make the process smooth. By preparing for your initial meeting with the probate lawyer, you can ensure that the meeting will be useful and productive.