What Does a Probate Lawyer Do?

When a person passes on, their assets must be distributed according to the state laws and the instructions laid out in their will. Throughout the probate process, a probate lawyer helps the executor of the will with various tasks such as identifying estate assets, identifying, and locating beneficiaries, and ultimately distributing assets.

What is a Probate Lawyer?

A probate lawyer is a licensed attorney. Probate lawyers collaborate with executors and beneficiaries of estates to settle the affairs of their deceased clients. Sometimes, probate can be bypassed if all the assets of the deceased have been transferred into a trust. Utilizing a trust can guarantee a seamless transfer of property without the need for court involvement or legal proceedings.

Probate lawyers near you in Sonoma County can take on different roles depending on the instructions laid out in estate documents. They may act as advisors, offering guidance and legal expertise to executors and beneficiaries. Alternatively, they can adopt a more active role and help executors administer the estate. The extent of involvement of probate lawyers in estate administration is determined by the unique requirements and complexities of each estate.

Differences Between a Probate Lawyer and an Estate Planning Attorney

A probate lawyer assists families settle a loved one’s estate after their death. On the other hand, an estate planning attorney works with living clients to proactively create and put an estate plan in motion. They ensure that the assets and affairs of their clients are handled according to their wishes upon their passing.

While their main areas of expertise differ, there are cases where a probate lawyer may also take on the role of an estate lawyer, particularly when they help individuals plan their estates to avoid potential probate complications in the future.

What Can a Probate Lawyer Do for You?

A probate lawyer can have a wide range of duties, which are typically agreed upon with the client in advance. These duties often revolve around estate settlement and probate procedures.

The responsibilities of a probate lawyer may include assisting the estate executor in carrying out their duties and providing legal guidance throughout the probate process. A probate lawyer can also represent a beneficiary of an estate if they get into a dispute with other beneficiaries or other parties and the matter reaches court. In some cases, a probate lawyer might even take on the role of the estate executor themselves, overseeing the administration of the estate.

However, the specific role of a probate lawyer near you in Sonoma County can vary depending on whether the deceased individual left a will or passed away intestate (without a will). If there is a will, the probate lawyer’s tasks will be oriented toward ensuring the distribution of the assets held in the estate according to the testator’s instructions. On the other hand, if the deceased died intestate, the probate lawyer will be responsible for assisting the executor navigate the probate process and distribute the person’s assets according to state intestacy laws.

When There is a Will

If a deceased person has left behind a will, their attorney must apply for a grant of probate in a court in the county where the deceased resided. The attorney must submit an application, along with the will and death certificate of the deceased in court. Once the court validates the will and grants probate, the duties of a probate lawyer may encompass the following:

  • Identifying all the assets owned by the deceased.
  • The probate lawyer should identify and pay off any outstanding debts or claims against the estate.
  • Creating an inventory of all the assets and assessing their values.
  • If necessary, arranging for professional appraisals of real estate or valuable items to ascertain their accurate worth.
  • Ensuring that the assets held in the estate are distributed according to the testator’s instructions.
  • Assisting the executor in settling any estate taxes or final income taxes owed by the deceased and the estate.
  • Keeping the beneficiaries updated on the progress of the probate process and addressing any queries or concerns they may have.
  • Preparing and filing all necessary legal documentation required for probate proceedings.
  • Furnishing details related to all financial transactions to the court and beneficiaries.
  • Once all obligations are fulfilled, the probate lawyer should oversee the closing of the estate and the final distribution of assets to the beneficiaries of the estate.

When There is No Will

When a person dies without creating a will, they are said to have died intestate. The assets of such people are distributed according to the intestacy laws of the state or province where they resided. In such cases, many of the responsibilities and services provided by a probate lawyer remain similar to those outlined earlier, but with some notable differences.

  • Since there is no will, a member of the deceased’s family or a probate attorney submits the person’s death certificate and a petition for probate in a court. The court then appoints an estate administrator, who is responsible for managing the estate’s affairs. This administrator may be a family member, or a professional chosen by the court.
  • Once the executor/probate attorney completes all probate administration tasks such as identifying and gathering assets and settling debts and taxes, the remaining assets (left after satisfying creditor claims and meeting tax obligations) are divided among the heirs according to the state’s intestacy laws.

To sum it up: If a deceased person has left behind a will, their assets are distributed according to their wishes. If, on the other hand, a person dies intestate, their preferences play no role in determining asset distribution. Instead, the state’s intestacy laws dictate the order of priority for distributing the estate among eligible heirs, such as spouses, children, parents, and other relatives.

Need help creating a bulletproof estate plan? Johnston & Associates has got you covered. Our team consists of seasoned estate planning attorneys. Their years of experience have equipped them with the skills and knowledge to develop customized legal solutions. To consult one of them, call (707) 545-6542.