Do I need an attorney for probate? We get many calls into our office at Beck, Lenox & Stolzer Estate Planning and Elder Law, LLC, LLC, and this is a frequently asked question. Having an estate planning attorney manage the probate process can alleviate a great deal of stress for the family, says the recent article “Reasons to hire a lawyer for probate” from The Mercury.
For one thing, the attorney will know what your state requires in the way of executing the will. You may need to pay a state inheritance tax, or you may have to file certain documents specific to your state. Even if the surviving spouse is the only beneficiary and all assets are either jointly titled or are distributed through beneficiary designations, there are other details you may miss.
A surviving spouse will certainly appreciate not having to undertake a mountain of paperwork or electronic forms on their own, especially if there are no adult children living nearby to help. Which beneficiary form needs to be completed, and what will financial institutions need to change accounts to the proper ownership? It can be daunting, especially during mourning.
Depending upon the state, there may be exemptions, discounts and deductions from the estate. A layperson likely does not know if their state deducts the attorney’s fees and/or the executor fees. Even attorneys who do not practice estate law do not always know about these potential benefits.
An estate planning attorney will also know how long the probate process will take. If the surviving spouse is the executor and is unable to attend probate court, some cases accept a remote process. Even though COVID-specific procedures are easing up, in some states, there may still be rules and requirements that a layperson would likely not know about.
If there are family disputes between beneficiaries regarding distribution, an estate planning attorney could be a very important resource. There may need to be a settlement agreement created that conforms to the state’s law. If it is not handled properly, the agreement could be deemed invalid if challenged in court.
What if the family home is being sold? Sometimes executors working without an attorney do not realize the requirements from title insurance companies regarding the sale of a property where one of the parties has passed. Failing to make sure that these requirements are met, could delay the settlement of the estate and put the property sale in jeopardy.
If there are health or creditor issues, or disputes over property, an estate planning attorney is invaluable in protecting the surviving spouse and/or executor. In many cases, the estate is left with substantial medical bills, Medicaid claims or related costs. And executors might still question, “Do I need an attorney for probate” because they are concerned about the fees. More work might mean more fees. At the same time, most executors may not know their rights, or how to defend the estate. They can cause a lot of problems for themselves and for the beneficiaries. A knowledgeable estate planning attorney like the ones at Beck, Lenox & Stolzer will know exactly what to do.
Reference: The Mercury (Feb. 8, 2022) “Reasons to hire a lawyer for probate”