November 22, 2017

3 Essential Tips for Hiring the Best Probate Lawyer

Last week, I talked about some of the benefits of hiring a probate attorney. If you’re sold on the idea of hiring a probate attorney to help you through the Will or probate process, but you’re not sure how to go about hiring the best attorney, this post is for you! I’ve come up with some great tips to follow when hiring a probate lawyer that will ensure that you find the best probate lawyer for you.

  1. Ask the right questions. Once you have a few free consultations set up, you want to ask the right questions during these consultations, to make sure that you fully understand the attorney’s qualifications. Ask questions such as:
  2. Find lawyers that offer free consultations. If you’re like me, you don’t like making impulse buys. You want to do your research and figure out who the best attorney is for you. The good news is that you can actually do this! If you find lawyers that offer free consultations, you can meet with several lawyers before deciding which one you want to retain. At no cost to you, you can get your questions answered and get a feel for the lawyer you’re meeting with and decide if you want to retain that lawyer or not.
    • How long have you been a probate lawyer? You want to find a lawyer that has experience in the field so that you know he or she has worked with cases similar to yours. Experience can make a lawyer a valuable asset.
    • Do you have any client testimonials? Client testimonials, whether on file or on a website, can give you the information that you need from people who have been in your shoes. If you see reviews from many satisfied customers, the lawyer is probably effective and efficient.
    • What would you do in _____ situation? Test out a situation and see how the lawyer responds. Especially if there are uncommon aspects to your probate process or Will, see how the lawyer would handle that situation.
    • What do you charge? If the attorney beats around the bush or won’t give you a straight answer, they might have hidden fees. If a lawyer is upfront and honest about their fees, you can probably trust the quote that they give you.
  3. Check out the reputation. Client testimonials are great ways to get a feel for customer satisfaction, but they’re not the only way. Sometimes, lawyers will only show you the best reviews that they get, not necessarily the reviews that give the most accurate picture of customer satisfaction. For this reason, you should consider asking friends or coworkers for suggestions of probate lawyers that they have used in the past. This feedback will probably be honest and it will come from people that you can trust.

Finding the right probate lawyer can be a difficult process, but it doesn’t have to be! If you follow these tips, you will be able to find the right lawyer for you! To set up your FREE consultation with me, click here!

Why Hire a Probate Lawyer?

One question that you might have as you create your last Will or sift through the Will of a loved one is – do I really need a lawyer to help me with this? Legally speaking, you do not NEED to hire a lawyer to assist you in creating a Will or probating a Will. However, having an experienced and dedicated probate lawyer working with you on these tasks has many benefits. Understanding these benefits will help you decide if you want to hire a probate lawyer or not.

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Benefits of hiring a probate lawyer to help you draft your Will

If you are considering hiring a lawyer to help you draft your Will, consider these benefits:

  • Lawyers know more than you do: Would you think to include a clause saying that it is ok for your family to use informal probate in your Will? Would you remember to write in your Will that the probate bond can be waived? There are a million little things to include in your Will that you are probably not aware of. Because probate lawyers are experienced with the law and have experience drafting Wills, they will know exactly what to include or leave out in your Will.
  • Make it easy for your family: One benefit of hiring a lawyer to help draft your Will is that this will make your Will as specific and easy-to-follow as possible. When you pass on, this will make the process of probating your Will as simple as possible for your family and the executor.
  • Get your questions answered: It’s natural to be confused about the process of writing your Will. In addition, drafting your Will can be an overwhelming process. To make this process as easy as possible, it’s best to have a lawyer who is experienced and who can guide you through the process. Having someone that you can go to with questions at any time is a valuable benefit of hiring a probate lawyer.

Benefits of hiring a probate lawyer to help with the probate process

There are several benefits to hiring a probate lawyer to help you through the probate process, including:

  • Filing paperwork: Your probate lawyer can help you file the probate petition and other paperwork. During this difficult time, having assistance with the paperwork can be a big help.
  • Help for the executor: The executor has a huge job in executing the demands of the deceased’s Will. Even executors with the best intentions can make mistakes or become stressed by the process. A probate attorney can keep the executor on track and work with him or her to ensure that the Will is executed properly. This means that all parties (creditors, heirs, beneficiaries, executor, etc.) can be happy when the estate is settled.
  • Professional resource: Again, a probate attorney can help you through this process due to his or her knowledge and experience. If you need questions answered, guidance, or peace of mind, you can get it from a probate attorney.

There are many benefits to hiring a probate attorney. For more information about what I can offer you, contact my office today!

Formal Probate vs. Informal Probate

There are two major kinds of probate – formal probate and informal probate. These types of probate are similar but they have a few distinct differences that should be noted. If you are trying to split up the assets of a deceased loved one, and you and your family are considering using the informal probate process as opposed to the formal one, there are some things that you should know.

Probate vs. Informal Probate

Probate, as I’ve mentioned, occurs when an executor files a probate petition with the court and handles the affairs of the deceased according to his or her Will. Informal probate is similar to probate, but it differs in that it can be done without the supervision of the court.

When to use Informal Probate

If you and your family are considering using informal probate, there are some things that you should consider. Informal probate works best in situations where the assets amount to $50,000 or more. All parties (creditors, heirs, executor, etc.) must agree to the informal probate process, and it must be stated in the Will of the deceased that informal probate can be used. If at any time a party in the proceedings decides that he or she wants to switch to formal probate, he or she can file a petition with the court to allow for formal administration. If you decide to use informal probate, you do not have to hire an attorney, but it is still advised that you do so. At any point during the informal probate process, you can hire an accountant, a tax preparer, or a probate lawyer to assist you in understanding the finances and law involved with the estate.

Deciding to use informal probate will depend on your individual situation. If the Will that is left behind by the deceased is a complex document with room for interpretation and questions, you might want the court to give guidance where there are questions. In this case, you should use probate. On the other hand, if the deceased’s Will is clear and straightforward, you might not need the help of the court. In this case, using informal probate can help to make the probate process faster.

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Formal probate and informal probate are similar, but depending on your personal situation, one might be more effective than the other. If you are trying to determine which form of probate will be more useful for you and your family, it is in your best interest to contact a probate lawyer. He or she can consider your individual circumstances and make an informed suggestion based on it. A probate lawyer, like me,  can also answer your questions and make this process run smoother in general. Contact me here.

Information on Probate Bonds

Taking on the role of the executor during the probating of a loved one’s Will can be a big job. As the executor, you are responsible for putting the deceased’s affairs in order and distributing property and assets to the rightful inheritors. In last week’s post, I talked about fiduciary duty – the requirement for being an executor that states that you will be fair and honest in your role as executor. Unfortunately, sometimes executors make mistakes or even purposefully tamper with the distribution of property and assets. For this reason, executors generally have to pay a probate bond in order to protect both creditors and heirs from accidental or purposeful negligence on the part of the executor.

We all know what a regular bail bond is. If someone is arrested for a crime, depending on the severity of this crime, they can post bail and be released from jail until their court date. A bond is paid when the accused gives money to the court as a condition of his or her return. For example, if bail is set at 10,000, the accused will have to give the court $10,000 in order to be released. If he or she does not return for trial, he or she forfeits the money given as the bond. The concept behind a probate bond is similar. In order to ensure that the executor does not take money that was supposed to be given to heirs or creditors for him or herself, a Judge will oftentimes order a probate bond to be paid by the executor as an act of good faith. If the executor is in charge of a $20,000 estate, he or she will have to pay a bond of $20,000. The executor will get this money back if and when the property and assets are distributed properly. If they are not, the heirs and creditors get to keep the probate bond.

Problems with Probate Bonds

While protecting the creditors and heirs and ensuring that they get what they are entitled to is a good thing, sometimes obtaining money for a probate bond can be difficult. An executor raising money for a probate bond will in many cases have to essentially take out a loan to pay for the bond. This is tricky because the executor can be denied the loan, the loan can take a long time to obtain, and the executor oftentimes has to add more money to the bond if years go by and the estate is not settled. This can put a lot of pressure on the executor.

Waiving the Probate Bond

Because there are so many potential problems with probate bonds, many attorneys will waive the bond requirement when they draft Wills. Another way that the bond can be waived is if all of the heirs agree to have this done. For example, if “Ben”, the executor of his mother’s Will is an heir to the Will along with his two brothers, all three brothers can agree to trust that Ben will fulfill his duties as executor and they can waive the probate bond.

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In theory, probate bonds are useful, as they protect the interests of the heirs and creditors while a Will is probated. However, in practice, the money for probate bonds can be difficult to raise, and if the executor is a loved one, the bond is oftentimes unnecessary. For more information about probate bonds, contact me here.

The Role of the Executor

Being named as the executor of someone’s Will is an honor. The deceased clearly trusted you with a very important task – taking care of his or her affairs once he or she could not, and ensuring that all debts are paid off and the remaining assets and property are given to the rightful heirs. This is a big responsibility and it can seem, at times, like an overwhelming job. If you have been named executor of a loved one’s Will, there are some things you need to know about this responsibility.

Do I Qualify as an Executor?

Because an executor has to deal with laws and finances that are oftentimes complex, you might think that only an expert in these fields would qualify as an executor, but this is not necessarily the case. Anyone can be an executor so long as they fulfill what is called fiduciary duty. Fiduciary duty refers to the duty to act honestly and with good faith in order to represent someone else. This means that you must be an honest and impartial person in order to be an executor. If you feel that you have these characteristics, you can be an executor.

What Does the Executor Do?

An executor has many jobs including:

  • Paying debts. The executor will have to notify creditors of probate proceedings and pay off any debts that the deceased has.
  • Paying taxes. Similarly, the executor is in charge of filing the final income tax return on behalf of the deceased. This income tax return should be filed for the start of the tax year up to the time of death.
  • Identifying the deceased (or decedent’s) property and assets.
  • Managing the decedent’s assets and property until the inheritors can take them. This duty could include deciding to sell securities or real estate or deciding to hold onto them.
  • Supervising the decedent’s property as it is distributed to the inheritors. The executor has to make sure that the property and assets are distributed to the right people according to the decedent’s Will.
  • Establishing a bank account for the estate. This account will be used to store money owed to the decedent.
  • If necessary, filing the Will in probate court.
  • Determining the necessity of proceedings in probate court.
  • Taking care of general details. This might include dealing with notifying credit card companies and banks/federal agencies of death.

As you can see, fulfilling the role of executor is no small task. If you think that you are up to the challenge, you will have many responsibilities. At times, this role can be confusing and overwhelming. If you ever feel like this is the case, you can contact a probate lawyer such as myself for guidance. I can give you the answers that you need and walk you through this experience. Even if you are not ready to retain my services, I offer free consultations, so we can meet together and discuss your situation at no cost to you. If this sounds like a good option to you, contact my office today!

Introduction to the Probate Process

The death of a loved one can be an incredibly devastating and traumatic time for close family and friends. Unfortunately, the mourning process is oftentimes complicated by things like planning the wake, planning the funeral, choosing a coffin, making sure the burial plot is in order, writing the obituary, etc. Once all of the wake and funeral arrangements are made, there is still the issue of distributing property and assets based on the Will left behind. While this might seem an unpleasant and overwhelming task, it is important to “probate” the Will. This article will cover the basics of that process.

Probating a Will basically means executing the deceased’s wishes in the Will. If the deceased owned property, it will be distributed based on the Will that he or she left behind. Probating the Will essentially means passing property titles onto heirs and determining how the assets will be divided among family members.

To probate a Will, an executor is determined. This person is in charge of managing the distribution of property based on the deceased’s Will. Basically, the executor just has to follow the instructions left by the deceased and make sure that his or her interests are honestly represented and carried out.courts

Probate can be a long and expensive process depending on what the deceased (referred to as the decedent) left behind. If a Will was left behind, transferring the ownership of property can be slow and costly. It is much easier and quicker to do if the decedent has a living trust.

The following things can be accomplished in probate:

  • The decedent’s property is identified and an inventory is made of it
  • An appraisal is made on the property
  • Taxes and creditors are paid with the decedent’s assets
  • Retirement accounts and life insurance are given to the joint owner or heirs

Probate must occur in the county where the decedent has property, not necessarily where he or she was at the time of his or her death. In order to probate a Will, a probate petition must be filed with the court. Roughly a month to a month and a half after this petition is filed, there will be a legal hearing to determine how the property will be divided.

As mentioned above, probating a Will is generally a long and slow process that can become expensive. If you want to avoid probate, you should use a living trust. Using a living trust is the most common way to avoid probate.

If there is no living trust or if you want to probate the deceased’s Will, it can be a confusing and tedious process. This is where a probate lawyer comes in. I can help you through this process and make it as painless as possible. For more information, you can contact me for a free consultation. I will answer any questions that you have at no cost to you!

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