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 Salem 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.
Does firm size matter?
For most consumer legal issues, the size of the practice is much less important than the experience, competence, and reputation of the attorney(s) handling your case. Among the most important factors when choosing an attorney are your comfort level with the attorney or practice and the attorney’s track record in bringing about quick, successful resolutions to cases similar to yours.
Common legal terms explained
Pro se – This Latin term refers to representing yourself in court instead of hiring professional legal counsel. Pro se representation can occur in either criminal or civil cases.
Statute – Refers to a law created by a legislative body. For example, the laws enacted by Congress are statutes.
Subject matter jurisdiction – Requirement that a particular court have authority to hear the claim based on the specific type of issue brought to the court. For example, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court only has subject matter jurisdiction over bankruptcy filings, therefore it does not have the authority to render binding judgment over other types of cases, such as divorce.