When an individual dies leaving a will, the legal process that takes place is called probate. Probate refers to how an estate is administered and processed through the legal system.
The probate process can be confusing and overwhelming considering the circumstances. A Bel Air probate lawyer will help with the management of the decedent’s estate, any trusts he or she may have as well as any guardianships or conservatorships in question.
Probate cases often become very detailed and a probate lawyer will help ensure the rights of the deceased are fully protected. Attorneys also have the sensitivity to family dynamics and are knowledgeable in common problems with probate cases.
What is probate?
Probate is the process through which assets from a deceased person’s estate are transferred to beneficiaries, such as spouses, children, and other loved ones. In plain terms, reading a person’s will and distributing the items contained in it is part of the probate process. In some states, probate courts also handle matters related to guardianships and conservatorships of children or disabled adults.
What happens if you don’t do probate?
Without an estate plan in place, the probate process will often still go forward, but it can get messier. Someone who dies without a will in place will often have their assets given to any survivors, even if that would have gone against their wishes. Court battles can unfold among relatives who feel like they deserve more.
How long does probate take?
In a simple case where there are no disputes, and the deceased had a strong plan in place, the probate process of distributing assets and paying off debts may only take a few months to complete. If someone challenges the will or any other part of the estate distribution, it can take much longer.
How can you avoid probate?
If you want your beneficiaries to avoid the hassle of probate, you have several options. You can make sure to name beneficiaries of bank accounts, retirement accounts, and life insurance policies. You could also move your assets to a living trust, which will allow you to access them while you are still alive but will automatically pass to your beneficiaries upon your death.
Top Questions to Ask When Hiring an Attorney
- How many years have you been practicing law? How long have you practiced law in the local area?
- How many cases similar to mine have you handled in the past?
- What is the likely outcome for my case?
In legal practice, experience matters. An experienced attorney will likely have handled issues similar to yours many, many times. Therefore, after listening to your situation, the attorney should have a reasonable idea of the time line for a case like yours and the likely resolution.
Tips on Approaching an Initial Attorney Consultation
- Use the consultation as a means of gaining a better understanding of your legal situation.
- Ask the attorney how many cases similar to yours he/she has handled. An attorney’s experience and knowledge can speak to their expertise (or lack of) in addressing your situation.
- Your attorney should be able to articulate roughly how long a case like yours will take to resolve and what sort of procedures to expect.
- Determine how comfortable you are working with the lawyer and/or law firm.
Types of legal fees:
Bill by the hour: Many attorneys bill by the hour. How much an attorney bills you per hour will vary based on a number of factors. For instance, an attorney’s hourly fee may fluctuate based on whether that hour is spent representing you in court or doing research on your case. Attorneys in one practice area may bill you more than attorneys in a different practice area.
Contingent fee: Some lawyers will accept payment via contingent fee. In this arrangement, the lawyer receives a percentage of the total monetary recovery if you win your lawsuit. In sum, the lawyer only gets paid if you win. Contingent fee agreements are limited to specific practice areas in civil law.
Flat fee: For “routine” legal work where the attorney generally knows the amount of time and resources necessary to complete the task, he/she may be willing to bill you a flat fee for services performed.
Common legal terms explained
Affidavit – A sworn written statement made under oath. An affidavit is meant to be a supporting document to the court assisting in the verification of certain facts. An affidavit may or may not require notarization.