The process of probate is stressful for anyone involved in a deceased person’s will. The personal representative, beneficiaries, and other family members may feel out of the loop, or like they are scrambling to figure out someone’s last wishes and estate plan during a time of immense grief.
Unfortunately, the legal and financial rules concerning probate are not the easiest to navigate, but no matter how you are connected to your loved one’s will, an attorney will be able to help you know your rights and get through probate smoothly.
Here are just a few ways an attorney can help you to navigate the process:
Assisting the Personal Representative. The personal representative is chosen by the decedent to sort out the deceased’s estate, or appointed if the decedent doesn’t pick anyone. Most probate attorneys work with personal representatives and guide them through administering an estate during probate. The personal representative and the probate attorney can work together to contact and pay creditors, divide the estate, file tax returns, and carry out the deceased’s last wishes.
Depending on the size of the estate, the personal representative might have to file an estate tax return as well. An attorney will be able to assist with this process and file the tax return with the personal representative while minimizing taxes and using the information from the tax return to fit into the final accounting.
Some estates are more complicated than others, involve more creditors, or just have unusual assets to divide. If you are the personal representative, you may want to step back from the job in front of you and ask yourself what duties you can and cannot reasonably and accurately handle. If you do not believe that you will be able to manage all of the duties of being a personal representative, it is definitely time to call up an attorney.
Will Contests. If a beneficiary (or potential beneficiary) wants to contest a will, he or she will need strong representation to prove to a judge that the will in question was fraudulent or needs to be reconsidered. An attorney can help you through this extremely stressful process and help you build your case.
Avoiding Dramatic Battles in Court. If you are the personal representative or a beneficiary, you may find yourself needing an attorney to represent you in any legal battles that arise over a will.
Arguments regarding probate can often cause fights among family members, especially if the decedent’s will is unclear, was not updated before his or her death, or involves unpopular decisions regarding inheritance. A probate attorney will be able to serve as a third party voice with experience in probate law, as well as offer advice for how to settle disagreements outside of a courtroom.
Terminating Personal Representative or Guardianship Duties. Probate drama often comes from disagreements over who should act as guardian when someone is enter the last years of their life, or who should act as the personal representative after the person’s death.
The people holding both of these roles can be excused from their responsibilities, or their title can be handed over to someone else if they are not property performing their duties. In order for these changes to be made, however, the appropriate paperwork will need to be filed and evidence must be presented to a judge that the personal representative or guardian in question is not doing his or her job.
Estate Planning to Avoid Probate. Maybe probate and probate litigation has you thinking about your own estate plan and your last wishes. The best time to start planning for your future is right now. Even though it is often an uncomfortable conversation to have, talk to potential guardians and personal representatives about your wishes and what you would like for them to take on after your death.
Probate attorneys often have experience in estate planning, which means they have the knowledge to help you craft the documents necessary to make probate an easier process for your loved ones after you pass away.
Work with an estate planning attorney to build the best future for your children and family. Beginning a relationship with a lawyer now will be an investment that will last until the end of your life.
Remember, probate attorneys are available to assist executors, descendants, and anyone else involved in sorting out a loved one’s will. Depending on the particular needs of the estate, you may want to consider probate lawyers who also have experience in tax law, elder law, real estate, or family law. Give us a call today to see how an experienced Florida probate attorney can help you.
About the Author:
Christopher Q. Wintter is the President of Wintter & Associates, P.A. , a four-lawyer trust and estate firm. Mr. Wintter is a Florida Bar Board-Certified Expert in Trust and Estate Law. With more than 28 years’ experience as a practicing attorney, he also serves as an instructor and faculty member for the National Institute of Trial Advocacy (NITA)—the nation’s leading provider of legal advocacy skills training to practicing attorneys—and has earned the AV® Preeminent™ rating with LexisNexis Martindale Hubbell. He was also selected for inclusion in Florida Super Lawyers Magazine for 2011, 2012, and 2014-2016 in Estate and Trust Litigation, and was selected for inclusion to the Best Lawyers in America in 2016 in the area of Estate and Trust Litigation.