The process of closing an estate and ensuring that the assets are distributed according to the wishes of the decedent is always a difficult one. For family members and loved ones, the process is fraught with emotion, with memories of better times and grief for what has happened. For everyone else, the legal complexities and difficulties with heirs can make the process a real nightmare, but it does not have to be that way.
Whether you have been charged with the disposition of a loved one’s estate or named as an heir in the will, it is important to seek out expert representation. An experienced probate attorney can assist you through every step of this difficult and often confusing process, from gathering the required death certificates and locating the will to distributing the assets and paying the creditors.
A probate attorney is a vital part of any estate process, but just what do these professionals do? What does the job of the probate attorney entail, and why are their services so important?
Probate attorneys are licensed by the state, and they specialize in this unique area of the law. The typical probate attorney is the product of years of careful mentoring, an extensive legal education and many years of experience. As a result of all that training and education, the probate attorney is able to provide his or her clients with expert advice.
The probate attorney works with executors and administrators of estates, as well as beneficiaries of wills. Side note: the individual in charge of an estate is known as the executor if there is a will in place. If there is no will, that individual is called the administrator.
What Does the Probate Attorney Actually Do?
No matter what their level of training and education, the probate attorney has an important job to do. Probate attorneys perform a number of vital duties, each one important to the proper settling of the estate and the proper distribution of the decedent’s assets.
Some of the most important duties performed by the probate attorney include:
- Following the estate laws of the state where they are practicing. This is an important consideration, since the laws governing estates can vary widely from state to state.
- Performs all steps required for probate. These steps will depend on whether the decedent had a will or died intestate.
- Handling any contestation of the will, including disputes among heirs and family members.
- Advising the beneficiaries of the estate on legal matters related to the final wishes of the decedent. If there is a will, these final wishes will typically be laid out in that document.
- Advising the executor or administrator on the intricacies of estate law in their state.
- Locating the will if the decedent’s loved ones have trouble finding the document. Finding the will is a vital first step of the probate process, and probate attorneys have specific expertise in this area.
Representing Executors and Administrators
Many of the duties of the probate attorney revolve around their representation of the executor or administrator of the estate. The advice and guidance these legal experts provide can be invaluable, especially if the estate is complex or the will is being contested.
Some of the most important duties of the probate attorney include:
- Finding and securing the assets of the decedent’s estate
- Obtaining the value of the decedent’s assets on the date of death
- Securing appraisals for real estate
- Timely preparation and filing of documents required by the probate court
- Collecting any life insurance proceeds
- Helping the administrator or executor establish a bank account for the estate
- Making appropriate elections with regard to IRAs, 401(k)s and other retirement accounts
- Providing advice on payment of the decedent’s outstanding debt and final bills
- Tracking the checking account for the estate
- Calculating estate and inheritance taxes and ensuring that they are paid
- Dealing with the IRS and ensuring that the final tax return is prepared and filed
- Helping with the sale of property included in the estate
- Getting the court’s permission for actions required by the applicable probate laws
- Retitling real estate held by the decedent into the name of the estate
- Making sure that creditors are paid
- Distributing the remaining assets to the individuals named in the will
As you can see, the probate attorney performs a number of vital duties, and it is important to seek out this expertise whenever you deal with an estate. Unless you are an attorney yourself, you probably do not have the experience, the training or the knowledge necessary to deal with the complexities of even a relatively easy estate. If you are acting as an administrator or executor of an estate, you need the right person in your corner, and that person is a probate attorney.
Do You Need Help with Probate Matters?
As you can see, the probate process in Arizona is complex. It requires a number of steps and without the right approach, it’s easy to get lost in the details.
At JacksonWhite, we can make probate a clear, easy-to-understand process. If you’d like help with probate matters, call the talented team at JacksonWhite Law today.
We can help explain your legal options and direct you to the probate solution that works for you and your loved ones.