topic | first days after death

Step 7: determine if an estate attorney is needed

Guiding an estate through probate takes patience, honesty, and attention to detail. An estate attorney, also known as a probate lawyer, will assure that the probate and settlement process is completed correctly within the time limits of the law. The relationship between those impacted and the complexity of the deceased’s state probate procedures can cause further stress on an already delicate situation. If you feel overwhelmed with the tasks at hand, it may be wise to consult with an attorney.

Activity 1
Assess the Need for an Attorney

Many variables influence the need for an estate attorney. Consider the following factors as you assess whether the assistance of an attorney is necessary. Remember, an attorney can be brought in at any time.

The assistance of an attorney may be necessary if:

  • Paying state or federal estate taxes is anticipated.
  • There are creditor problems, or court hearings are anticipated.
  • Beneficiaries of assets are not clearly identified in written documents such as a Will or insurance policy.
  • Property is not jointly owned with a survivor.
  • The probate court in the county and state you will be filing does not provide fill-in-the-blank-forms and detailed instructions on how to proceed.
  • You do not feel comfortable researching and getting material yourself.
  • The estate is large enough to require the filing of an estate tax return. (See Topic: Organize Finances and Pay Taxes)
  • There are unusual kinds of property that may be hard to value, sell, or distribute.
  • Beneficiaries or heirs are antagonistic and do not get along.
  • The deceased was in the middle of legal proceedings such as a lawsuit or divorce.
  • The estate has more debts than assets.
  • Court hearings are anticipated, and the time and effort to handle them appears significant.
  • An individual or business owes the deceased significant money, property, or other assets.
  • Your own Will needs revision as a result of an inheritance you receive.
  • Real estate is owned in more than one state.
  • An original copy of the Will is not available.

If any of the above circumstances are anticipated, consider consulting an attorney.

Best Practices

The assistance of an estate attorney is very useful in most situations. It is not a legal requirement to engage an estate attorney. However, the work they do is involved and invaluable. Note: Attorney fees are paid for by the estate.

(if this Step is complete)
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