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What Is a Probate Lawyer and Why Would You Need One?

When a loved one dies, there are many things to handle. From managing your own grief to planning the funeral and handling the deceased’s estate, it might feel like too much to do on your own. Knowing what is a probate lawyer and how they may help you handle the probate process smoothly and efficiently can be a lifeline during this difficult time.

Due to many factors, such as the size and complexity of the decedent’s possessions and personal belongings, the existence or absence of a will, and the estate litigation that can occur between family members, the legal process of settling and distributing the late person’s estate can be long, arduous, and stressful.

A probate attorney can help you navigate this complex journey and take some stress off your plate.

In this post, we’ll answer the most important questions related to the “probate lawyer” term and help you decide whether an attorney will be helpful in your situation.

What Is a Probate Lawyer?

A probate attorney is a state-licensed lawyer focusing in estate law who offers special legal representation and assistance to the executors, administrators, and beneficiaries of an estate to settle the affairs of a deceased person.

The role of the probate lawyer depends on the specific circumstances of the estate, and they assist as much or as little as needed during the legal procedures of the probate process.

To fulfill their role, probate attorneys must have a deep understanding of the estate laws in the state where they serve and should stay updated on any changes and amendments that will change or/and complete the legal rules.

What Does a Probate Lawyer Do?

Under Georgia law, the estate does not exist separate from the personal representative. In this situation, it’s important to understand not just what is a probate lawyer but also that he represents the estate’s administrator or executor, not the estate itself.

Since the personal representative hired the lawyer, they are also responsible for paying the fees, regardless if they charge a flat fee or an hourly rate.

The primary responsibility of a probate attorney is to help settle the deceased person’s estate, their range of duties being extensive and depending on factors such as:

  • Whether the deceased had or did not have a will.
  • The complexity of the estate.
  • If an heir, beneficiary, or creditor wants to sue the estate.
  • Other difficulties that an estate might have.

When there is a will

When the late person leaves a valid last will and testament, the nominated executor can hire a probate lawyer to guide and help them through the probate process – from filing the will with the probate court to appointing the nominated executor to pay all the debts and distribute the remaining assets.

Typically, the estate distribution must follow the decedent’s wishes mentioned in the will and go through probate without problems. However, there are also situations when the decedent’s beneficiaries, surviving family members, or heirs may want to challenge the will if they believe there are reasons to consider the testament invalid, such as:

  • The document was signed under duress.
  • The will was signed under the undue influence of another.
  • The deceased was not competent to sign the will.

These are just a few reasons that someone may want to contest a will. There are other potential reasons that are not listed here.

In these cases, the probate attorney may represent a party in probate litigation and mediation.

When there is no will

One of the questions we often hear is, “Do I need a probate lawyer if there is no will?” and the answer is, “It is highly recommended.” Probate without a will can sometimes take longer and more complicated than probate with a will.

When the deceased didn’t leave a valid will, they are considered to have died intestate. Their estate’s assets will be distributed under the Georgia intestacy laws that determine who inherits what.

Regardless of what the deceased person said while alive if he didn’t leave a testament, state laws determine the distribution of his estate’s assets.

However, the deceased family member could ask for a probate lawyer consultation from the beginning to help them file the court to be appointed an administrator. They can also hire a probate attorney later, in one of the different stages of estate administration. 

What to Expect from a Probate Attorney? What Are Their Main Tasks?

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Photo by Kzenon via Canva

As mentioned before, a probate attorney can have numerous tasks, depending on the complexity of the estate and the moment of the probate process when he was hired.

Usually, after someone’s death, an estate plan decides the next steps. If there is a will, it will go through probate. If non-probate assets or trusts exist, they will not go through probate.

However, a probate attorney might also help distribute the non-probate assets, or the trustee might administer the living trust.

Before hiring them, it’s essential to know what is a probate lawyer and to understand what to expect from him.

A probate lawyer can fulfill different tasks, such as:

  • Helping the deceased family members locate the deceased’s will.
  • Identifying and securing all the deceased probate assets, including their bank accounts, investments, real estate and other personal properties, vehicles, jewelry, and more.
  • Identifying and collecting the non-probate assets, such as life insurance policies with designated beneficiaries, properties owned by the decedent in joint tenancy with right of survivorship, certificates of deposit, Payable on Death or Transfer on Death on the account, and more.
  • Preparing and filing documents required by a probate court and any other additional documentation.
  • Securing appraisals for the decedent’s real property.
  • Opening and managing the estate checking account.
  • Working with the estate accountant to determine and pay the estate and income taxes that might be due.
  • Paying debts and final bills.
  • Making the final distribution of the remaining assets after paying the decedent’s outstanding debts and taxes.
  • Retitling the properties in beneficiaries’ names.
  • Offering legal advice.
  • Representing the estate when an unhappy beneficiary or heir intends to challenge the will.

What Is the Difference Between a Probate Lawyer and an Estate Lawyer?

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Photo by Robert Kneschke via Canva

While both probate attorneys and estate lawyers practice estate law, there is one major difference between them: timing.

  • An estate attorney advises people on estate planning prior to someone’s incapacity or death. They help clients set up trusts, wills, and other estate planning documents according to the individual’s estate planning needs.
  • On the other hand, a probate lawyer handles the decedent’s estate administration after a person dies. They prepare the documents for probate court, help the estate administrator or executor administer the bequest, advise on diverse legal issues related to the probate case, represent the parties in litigation situations, and more.

Why Would You Need a Probate Lawyer?

It’s not always necessary to hire a probate lawyer to settle an estate when a loved one passes away. Typically, this decision depends on the specific estate needs. 

However, to determine if you’ll need to hire a probate lawyer, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • What is the size of your estate?
  • Do you have a complicated estate?
  • What type of estate plan has the deceased set up?
  • Can the estate be distributed without probate? 
  • Does the estate have enough funds to pay debts?
  • Are all the surviving family members getting along with each other?
  • Have you settled an estate before?

If you answered “no” to at least some of these questions, you may want to consider hiring a probate lawyer to assist with administering your loved one’s estate.

Main Questions to Ask a Probate Lawyer

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Photo by Pixelshot via Canva

Not all probates are the same, and finding the right probate attorney might make the difference between a successful probate process and a stressful one that might bring you some (costly) surprises along the way.

Here are some questions to ask before hiring an attorney that will help find the right fit for your particular situation:

  • How long have you been practicing probate law?
  • Do you practice any other areas in law?
  • Have you handled similar cases to mine before?
  • What potential problems do you see in my particular case?
  • How and how often do you communicate with your clients? What kind of updates will I get? 
  • How do you charge clients?
  • How long does the probate process usually take?
  • How long do you think settling our estate will take?
  • Do you handle contested probates?

Do You Need to Talk to a Probate Lawyer?

From the initial filing with the probate court to the final distribution of assets, we stand by your side throughout the entire probate period. Your peace of mind is our priority, and we are dedicated to making this difficult time as smooth and stress-free as possible for you and your family.

By handling the legal matters and providing clear guidance, we allow you to focus on what truly matters—honoring your loved one’s legacy and supporting your family.

Whether you’re dealing with a complex estate or need professional support during the probate process, and need to know more about what is a probate lawyer, our team is here to assist you. Reach out to our office to schedule a consultation with a member of our team and learn how we can assist you in managing your loved one’s estate.

 

More information

Disclaimer These websites have not been reviewed by Georgia Probate Law Group and are not endorsed or even recommended by Georgia Probate Law Group. These websites are additional resources that you can use to further your general education on this topic.

Disclaimer: The information above is provided for general information only and should not be considered legal advice. Our probate attorneys provide legal advice to our clients after talking about the specific circumstances of the client’s situation. Our law firm cannot give you legal advice unless we understand your situation by talking with you. Please contact our law office to receive specific information about your situation.

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About the author

Erik J. Broel
Founder & CEO

Erik founded the firm in 2009. He sees it as his personal mission to demystify the process of handling an estate or trust, and to help people by making the complex estate process simple and accessible. He believes there is always a better way to do things, and loves finding new and innovative ways to deliver better, more effective service that solves the client’s key problem or issue, and improves the client’s life.

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