It’s not always necessary to hire a lawyer to settle an estate. In some cases, the deceased person completely bypasses the need for probate altogether by placing assets in a living trust. In other cases, probate is unnecessary because all assets have named beneficiaries. The proceeds from a life insurance policy, for example, or a retirement account can be transferred outside of probate.
However, there are certainly cases when a probate hearing is necessary, and in those cases, an experienced lawyer with knowledge of state probate laws can help eliminate friction and reduce the stress of more complex procedures. If you’re the executor of an estate, and you’ve encountered on of the following situations, you may benefit from a lawyer.
The assets in question require special oversight.
When it comes to the administration of simple assets like a house, vehicle, or bank account, you may not need help. However, certain assets can add complexity to a probate filling that an amateur executor may not be equipped to handle. If the deceased person has left behind a business with no clear successor, for example, matters become more complicated. Likewise, some properties, such as firearms and restricted stocks, are more highly regulated and require more careful oversight.
Family relationships are complicated.
Most estates go uncontested. However, there are occasions when family members may raise questions about the estate. In the case of blended families and unmarried couples, complications may arise that create hard feelings, complaints, and even threats of lawsuits. When a surviving spouse is not a U.S. citizen, the estate may be complicated by federal tax laws. In those cases, it’s best to leave the probate process in the hands of a competent, objective attorney.
There isn’t enough money in the estate to pay debts.
If the deceased person has left more debts than assets, it will be necessary to determine which debts will be paid. State laws determine which creditors are prioritized, and a lawyer can help you identify which debts and taxes must be paid.
The estate is subject to estate and/or gift taxes.
Unless the estate is question is very large, it’s unlikely to be subject to estate taxes. Only a few states still tax impose estate and inheritance taxes on smaller estates. However, should you be the executor of an estate upwards of $11 million, administration of the assets can become more complicated by tax issues. An attorney can help affect a plan that reduces taxes.
Assets include real estate in various states or countries.
If the deceased person owned properties in multiple states or countries, those assets will likely be taxed at different rates. This can make estate administration more challenging for an amateur executor. A probate lawyer with experience handling larger, more sophisticated estates will be able to sort out the issues and expedite the process.
If you’re the executor of an estate that feels like more than you can handle, schedule a consultation with the Law Offices of Jeffrey Lohman today.
Attorney Jeffrey Lohman is admitted to practice law in Arizona, not CA. For a list of attorneys licensed in California, please visit our team page.