Whether you’ve been appointed the personal representative of a recently deceased loved one or you’re just starting to think about doing your own estate planning, you may be wondering if you should hire a probate lawyer to help you. While some people do write their own wills or serve as a personal representative without working with a qualified probate attorney, hiring a lawyer can often save time and money while preventing or minimizing disputes. Below are a few situations in which you may want to work with a probate lawyer.
5 Ways a Probate Attorney Can Help You
1) Clarify state laws related to your will. Every state has their own laws related to the last will and testament, and it’s important that you understand those laws in order to avoid complicating the probate process. For example, in Florida you can only appoint a personal representative who is either a close relative or a resident of Florida. If you appoint a friend from out of state, the court will end up appointing a different personal representative. Working with a probate lawyer can help you avoid these mistakes and ensure that your wishes are carried out the way you want.
2) Prevent family disputes. If you are a personal representative and there is a will contest, you should contact a probate attorney as soon as possible. Will contests are fairly rare, but they can be devastating for the family of the decedent when they occur, and the legal costs of a lawsuit may drain the decedent’s estate. If you start working with a professional early on, you may be able to resolve disputes without a lawsuit.
3) Handle a complicated estate. In Florida, an estate can bypass the formal probate process and go through a simpler process called summary administration if the value of the estate is less than $75,000 and all the decedent’s debts are paid, or if the decedent has been dead for two or more years and there has been no previous administration. However, any estates that do not fit this description will have to go through formal probate administration, which can be complicated and confusing without the assistance of an attorney.
4) Offer advice when the decedent’s assets cannot cover their debts. If you are a personal representative and you discover that there is not enough money in the decedent’s estate to cover their debts and taxes, you should seek legal advice before deciding what to do.
5) Offer advice about unusual assets. The probate process gets even more complicated when the decedent owned unusual assets, such as a business, commercial real estate, or a seasonal home outside of Florida. You will want to consult with a probate attorney to determine how to handle these assets, especially if any of the assets (such as commercial real estate) require ongoing handling.
The five situations described above, are not, of course, the only times when you can or should work with a probate attorney. You may wish to hire a probate lawyer any time you need to work on estate planning, transfer assets to a living trust, transfer assets to beneficiaries during probate, or handle complex probate issues. If you think that you may need the assistance of a probate attorney in Florida, contact Wintter & Associates, P.A.
About the Author:
Christopher Q. Wintter is the founder of Wintter & Associates, P.A. and a board-certified expert in Trust and Estate matters by the Florida Bar. With more than 24 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 for 2011 and 2012 in Estate and Trust Litigation.