Estate planning lawyer refers to law that surrounds estate planning and estate settlement procedures. This field of law encompasses trusts and probate estates. Probate is required within the U.S. for all estates that are not protected by a trust.
An estate planning lawyer can provide directives of how to avoid probate with or without a Will. They can also help settle estates as the sole estate administrator or by assisting a probate personal representative appointed within the last Will.
Probate attorneys can be instrumental in settling estates when family disputes arise. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for heirs to contest a Will if they feel slighted or were disinherited through the decedent’s Will.
While the majority of people appoint their spouse or relatives to act as their personal representative upon death, this may not always be the best choice. Settling the estate of a loved one during the grieving process can be a heavy burden. Other family members often perceive this person as their enemy or accuse them of not properly managing the estate.
Appointing an estate planning lawyer to represent the estate can reduce potential for heirs contesting the Will or creating family disharmony. However, having a lawyer settle the estate will be more costly than if a spouse, relative or friend oversees the duties. Only you can decide which is best.
Estate administrators are responsible for multiple duties. Much depends on estate value, types of inheritance property, and estate planning strategies implemented. The last will and testament is used to provide directives over distribution of property.
If a trust in used, inheritance assets can be transferred to named beneficiaries in expedient fashion. If assets are not placed into a trust the estate must endure probate which normally lasts for 6 to 9 months.
During probate, personal representatives are responsible for securing all property owned by the decedent. Appraisals must be obtained for valuable items such as real estate, automobiles, art work, jewelry, antiques, etc.
When decedents have financial portfolios, retirement accounts, and bank accounts and have designated beneficiaries to receive funds at death, the personal representative must obtain date-of-death (DOD) value forms from the institution where funds are held.
DOD value forms are submitted to the county tax assessor to validate decedents do not owe taxes. If taxes are current, forms are validated and returned to the personal representative. If taxes are owed, the estate must remit payment in full before funds can be distributed to heirs.
Estates with real estate holdings often require help from an estate planning lawyer to ensure property transfers are properly recorded. When real estate is secured with a mortgage note, the estate must remit loan installments and property taxes to prevent the property from falling into foreclosure.
In some instances, real estate must be sold to eliminate financial hardship. When property is secured by a home loan the sale is usually ordered by the probate judge. If the property is owned outright, all heirs entitled to the real estate must agree to the sale.
Each estate is as unique as the person who owns the property. There are many variables that occur and numerous estate planning strategies that can be implemented. The only way to ensure property is distributed according to your wishes is to develop ironclad strategies that will hold up in court. The best way to accomplish this is by working with an estate planning lawyer.
American Bar Association: Estate Planning FAQs