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Summary: Probate law doesn’t get the recognition of other practices; but it nonetheless is a very important aspect of law, particularly for families.
Probate lawyers don’t receive the glamorousness of other types of law.
They aren’t high profile corporate legal representatives or criminal attorneys made famous by broadcast television.
However, that isn’t to devalue probate attorneys, especially when a loved one’s estate is at risk.
Probate Lawyer: A Type of Lawyer in a Practice Area That Benefits Everyone
Even if you’re in your first, second, or third year of law school – even if you’re not yet in law school, it is always good to know the various practice areas for lawyers who concentrate their legal careers in specialty fields.
These fields of law practice include but aren’t limited to:
Corporate law – which usually involves issues regarding business transactions that usually take place within large corporations.
Family law – which focuses on protection and representation of family-type issues such as wills, estates, and other legal involvements. Adoption, custody and divorce fall under family law.
Bankruptcy law – which concentrates on issues involving money and finance (or a lack thereof).
Employment law – which tends to focus on employee and employer rights that regards compensation, termination, harassment and workplace safety, etc.
Civil Rights law – in which a lawyer who specializes in civil rights focuses on discrimination, civil liberties, gay and lesbian rights, as well as voting and human rights.
Of course, this is just the tip of the legal iceberg. Law has many applications in life, and many applications in life do, at some point, require legal representation. From the military to personal injury, it seems as if there’s a type of lawyer for every facet of life.
Probate law may be a type of legal practice that doesn’t get the big exposure as might criminal law, or in some cases when millions, if not billions of dollars are at stake, corporate law. No, probate law entails a small, rather unsung offshoot of the legal tree, yet one that is nonetheless necessary, particularly if you and your loved one have an interest in a deceased relative’s or friend’s estate and/or property.
What is a probate lawyer?
According to the balance.com, a probate lawyer is a type of state-licensed attorney who, through years of mentoring, continuing legal education, and experience understands how to advise personal representatives, also known as executors, and the beneficiaries of an estate on how to settle all of the final affairs of a deceased person, known as a decedent.
What does a probate lawyer do?
Among the many tasks that are charged to probate lawyers, as estate lawyers (also known as estate attorneys) probate lawyers are responsible for taking a personal representative through the entire probate process from start to finish.
How an estate is probated, as well as the related steps, depend greatly on the probate laws of the state where the decedent lived at the time of death as well as any other states where the decedent owned real estate. The Balance cites Florida as having two different probate processes allowed by state law, both of which depend on the value of the decedent's probate estate, the estate’s value, and how long the decedent has been dead.
A large part of a probate lawyer’s responsibilities depends upon whether or not the decedent died testate, meaning with a valid last will and testament. Accordingly, those who do not have a last will and testament at the time of their death is known as intestate.
If this occurs, the probate lawyer must be well versed in the probate laws of the states where the lawyer is licensed to practice.
A probate lawyer can also be hired to advise the beneficiary of an estate on legal and other matters presented to the beneficiary by the personal representative during the course of the probate process.
Probate lawyers are also instrumental toward negotiations between a beneficiary who doesn't get along with or does not know the personal representative very well.
The balance.com suggests that it’s good to note that some probate lawyers specialize in representing personal representatives and beneficiaries of an estate who become involved in separate lawsuits related to the decedent's estate or when a beneficiary challenges the validity of the decedent's last will and testament through a will contest.
These types of attorneys are known as estate litigators, probate litigators, or estate and trust litigators.
How a probate lawyer advises and assists a personal representative
The probate lawyer advises and assists with the following when he or she represents the personal representative of an estate by doing the following:
Locates and secures both probate assets and non-probate assets
Obtains date of death values and appraisals of all of the decedent's property
Prepares and files all documents required by the probate court in a timely manner
Collects life insurance proceeds
Rolls over and makes appropriate elections with regard to retirement plans, including IRAs and 401(k)s
Advises the personal representative as to how to pay the decedent's final bills and outstanding debts
Keeps track of the estate 's checking account
Determines if any estate taxes and/or inheritance taxes will be due at the federal and state levels, and if so, assists the personal representative as to where the cash will come from to pay the taxes
Assists the personal representative as to how income tax issues should be addressed.
Settles disputes among personal representatives and beneficiaries
Assists with the sale of estate property
Requests the court’s permission for various actions as required by applicable state probate laws
Retitles the decedent's real estate into the names of the estate beneficiaries if it is not being sold
Distributes what's left of the decedent's assets to the beneficiaries after paying bills and taxes
Unsung but Very Necessary
Nearly everyone – our relatives, loved ones and friends included – has some amount of assets or type of estate. And honestly if those same relatives, loved ones and friends do have some sort assets upon their death, it is most wise that they involve a probate attorney.
It is much too difficult for a grieving personal representative to undertake the estate’s responsibilities on their own, particularly as they may not have the legal knowledge to do so. Courts are difficult, as are, of course, state taxes (California is a prime example).
And as sad or seemingly distrustful as your client may seem of other relatives, there is the real truth among our society for people – some of them perfect strangers – to come out of the woodwork upon the death of someone whose estate these strangers may feel they are entitled to a piece of. This is where you come in as a probate attorney.
You not only protect the rights of true beneficiaries in lieu of a descendant’s final wishes, you make certain that what those beneficiaries receive what has been granted to them.
Yes, a probate attorney doesn’t allow for the high-profile sexiness of a seven-figure (or more) corporate attorney, nor will you not probably receive the choice TV news air time and glamorous newspaper write-ups of a top criminal attorney deep in the throes of defending a famous murderer.
But that’s okay. A probate attorney holds a much different, yet no less important facet of life that depending upon the worth of a descendant’s estate, could nonetheless bring proper attorney-type fame if the estate is large enough. However, don’t count on that. Think instead how your work as a probate attorney will ensure that what a descendant leaves behind will be properly distributed amongst that loved one’s loved ones do inevitably help them in light of the descendant’s absence.
In short, as a probate attorney you, like many other attorneys in various practice areas, inevitably help people with their very real-life issues. A probate attorney is no less than that in practice, legal recognition and importance, as well as an overall credit to those who need your law-related expertise.
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