One of the first practical steps that must be taken following the death of a loved one is to locate the decedent’s Last Will and Testament. The person appointed in that Will as the Executor of the estate is charged with overseeing the probate of the decedent’s estate. If you recently learned that you were appointed to be the Executor of an estate, you may be wondering if you need a lawyer to assist you with probating the estate. Ultimately, it is your choice; however, the Los Angeles probate lawyers at Schomer Law Group, APC explain why you might need the assistance of a lawyer when probating an estate.
Understanding the Probate Process
Probate is the name given to the legal process that is usually required after a person’s death. One of the primary functions of probate is to provide judicial oversight which ensures that the assets owned by the decedent at the time of death are identified, located, and eventually transferred to the beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate. Probate also serves as a wat to protect creditors of the estate by requiring that they be notified of the decedent’s death and giving them the opportunity to file claims against the estate. Uncle Sam is also covered by requiring that any gift and estate taxes owed must be paid before the conclusion of the probate process. Finally, any challenges to the validity of the Last Will and Testament submitted for probate are litigated during the probate process as well.
How Might a Probate Lawyer Help?
An Executor is not legally required to be represented by a lawyer. Moreover, if the estate is modest and the likelihood of litigation is minimal, you may not need a lawyer to help you probate an estate. If, however, the estate is required to go through formal probate and/or there is a possibility of litigation during the probate process, it is in your best interest to retain the services of an experienced probate lawyer. Among the numerous benefits of hiring an experienced probate lawyer to help you are:
- Preparing and filing legal documents. Probate begins with the filing of a petition to probate the estate. Throughout the probate process there will be a variety of legal documents that must be prepared and filed with the court and/or served on participants in the probate process. Some, but not all, of these forms may be available online through the appropriate court’s website; however, the court itself explains that the staff cannot provide legal advice nor help in filling out the forms and encourages people to consult with an attorney.
- Notifying creditors and reviewing claims. The law requires all potential creditors of the estate to be notified that probate is underway and provided an opportunity to file claims against the estate. Failing to properly notify creditors can subject the estate to litigation. The Executor must review every claim and approve or deny the claim. A probate lawyer can assist with this process to ensure that proper notification is given and that only legitimate claims are approved.
- Defending the estate. Authenticating the Will submitted to probate is one step in the probate process. If the authenticity of the Will is challenged, you will need an experienced probate lawyer by your side for the ensuing litigation. The same applies if a creditor appeals a denial of claim.
- Making sure that state and federal taxes are paid. Every taxpayer is subject to federal, and sometimes state, gift and estate taxes. Calculating how much an estate owes in estate taxes can be a complicated endeavor; however, a mistake made in the amount of tax owed can be devastating to the estate, and therefore to the beneficiaries.
- Transferring assets. Once all claims have been resolved, any challenges to the Will litigated, and all taxes paid, the remaining assets must be legally transferred to the intended beneficiaries. A probate lawyer can help you locate the beneficiaries and prepare the necessary documents to effectuate the transfers.
Contact Los Angeles Probate Lawyers
For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions or concerns about probating an estate, contact the experienced Los Angeles probate lawyers at Schomer Law Group APCby calling (310) 337-7696 to schedule an appointment.