Do I need a probate lawyer?

You have been appointed as personal representative of your loved one’s estate. What is the first step? Do you need to hire a lawyer?

The answer is: it depends. The decision to hire or not hire an attorney is one that should be carefully considered, considering all of the following factors.

You are not required to have a lawyer to probate an estate. If you feel fully capable of handling all issues yourself, you are more than able to do so.

However, most people do not have time, legal background or resources to handle probating an estate and going through the court system on their own.

Depending on the size and complexity of the estate, it can take time, a lot of paperwork and even litigation to close the estate. In those situations, it is always advisable to hire a lawyer.

Research the probate process first

Probate is not rocket science, but it can seem like it depending on your understanding of the law.

Research the probate law in your state before you make any decisions. Keep in mind, however, that while it may seem simple, bumps and hiccups are more than likely to come along the way.

Before you step in, make sure you are fully confident you can handle this on your own.

How much can be done outside of probate?

Not all assets need to be handled in the probate system.

Life insurance and most retirement accounts with beneficiaries designated, joint tenancy, among others do not need to be probated.

The deceased would have named beneficiaries for those assets, and they can be distributed to the appropriate people quickly and without court involvement.

If the deceased property is in a living trust, probate is not need either. However, it is always advisable that professional assistance be sought in some capacity, whether that be through a financial advisor or accountant.

How small is the estate?

For small estates, specifically those below the federal estate tax threshold, estate taxes can be avoided.

This threshold changes from time to time but is currently over $5.45 million. Any estates falling below that amount do not require estate taxes to be paid.

However, this is for the federal tax. States do impose their own estate taxes as well. If you do not choose to hire an attorney, at least consult with an accountant to ensure everything is handled correctly.

Family matters

One important consideration is whether the relatives listed as beneficiaries get along.

It might not have been the intent of the deceased to cause a rift in the family, but probate can often bring out the worst in people. Money is involved.

Personal and treasured assets are involved as well. If family members are fighting over who gets what and how much, it is always advisable to hire an attorney.

This third-party can help you settle disputes and avoid a lengthy court battle.

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