When a person dies, whether or not a will exists, the property and other assets obtained over the course of life must be liquidated and distributed. Legal title must be established for heirs and beneficiaries. This process is handled in the state’s probate court.
Proceedings in probate court determine if a will is valid, collects and preserves the assets of the deceased, pays from the estate all expenses and outstanding debts, and distributes the remaining assets to heirs. If a will does not exist, the court determines the legal heirs.
Probate is complicated, even for small estates, and the help of an attorney experienced in probate law and procedures is vital, particularly if heirs or creditors challenge the will.
Estates vary and so does the settlement of estates. An administrator of an estate, often a family member or trusted friend, will need the assistance of a probate attorney to ensure adherence to the will and applicable probate laws.
If the deceased person did not leave a will, most states require a probate attorney’s participation.
Your probate attorney can explain the procedures and laws involved and protect your interest, the wishes of the deceased, and prepare for formal probate court proceedings.
An estate/probate attorney can also represent minors and mentally incapacitated heirs in the distribution of assets.
Your probate attorney may or may not be the estate’s administrator. Either way, your probate attorney will:
Other duties of the administrator, who is responsible for the distribution of assets, depends upon the nature of the assets and estate planning strategies in place.
If disputes arise among the heirs or creditors, the administration of the estate can be delayed, resulting in financial penalties. An estate/probate attorney can prevent a penalty or advise the estate’s administrator how to proceed.