What is a Probate Lawyer?
Probate lawyers assist their clients in the process of fulfilling their duty as administrators, personal representatives, or executors of estates. The probate process encompasses the tasks of paying the deceased person’s debts and distributing the assets of the estate according to the will or state law.
What’s the Difference Between a Probate and Estate Planning Lawyer?
Probate and estate planning attorneys both practice estate law, however, a probate attorney handles the process of administering the estate after a person passes away. In some cases, they may serve as an executor or administrator of an estate if the person has not assigned someone else to designate.
Estate planning attorneys work with living clients to help them get their affairs in order for once the event they pass away. This includes drafting wills, trusts, living trusts, and assigning a power of attorney. Additionally, these attorneys work to create a plan for care at the later stages of an individual’s life and can also help reduce taxes for assets that become inherited.
Some attorneys, including attorney Christy K. Brown, serve as both an estate planning and probate attorney.
What Does a Probate Attorney Do?
A probate attorney can accomplish many things to settle an estate and assist the Executor and beneficiaries, including:
- Identify and collect life insurance policy proceeds
- Determining and paying inheritance taxes
- Figuring out and paying estate and income taxes that may be due
- Taking inventory of all estate assets
- Paying debts and final bills, including taxes
- Making final distributions after paying all bills and taxes
- Opening and managing the estate’s checking account
- Ordering property appraisals for real property
- Preparing and filing all required documents by a probate court
- Retitling assets in beneficiaries’ names
How Long Does the Probate and Estate Administration Process Take?
The answer is “it depends.” A summary probate proceeding could take as little as four months. In Texas as in other states, a typical probate and estate administration process will take up to one to two years from the date of the decedent’s death. In an estate with contested issues or lawsuits, the process may take years to settle and conclude probate.
There are a lot of factors that can shorten or lengthen the probate and estate administration timeline, including:
- Size of the estate — many states have expedited proceedings for small estates.
- How much of the estate can be transferred outside of the probate process (through transfer on death deeds, payable on death bank accounts, trusts, surviving spouse claims, etc.). With careful estate planning, it’s possible that most of an estate can be transferred outside of probate.
- Whether there are questions about the validity of the will, which could lead to a will contest.
- Whether there are conflicts among family members (heirs) and beneficiaries leading to a probate hearing.
- Real estate problems that would make it difficult to transfer title.
- Difficulty finding real property mentioned in the will.
- Mismanagement of estate property or the probate process by a fiduciary, such as a trustee or executor.
- Challenges to the legitimacy of some outstanding debts.
- Whether the decedent’s estate has enough money to pay creditor claims or if estate assets must be sold first to do so.
- Tax problems that make it difficult to file the decedent’s final income tax returns.
And, of course, some delays in the probate process are the result of backed-up court dockets. But probate courts operate as efficiently as possible to move the probate case through the courts quickly.
When Is Probate Not Needed?
Probate is not needed in the following circumstances:
- Joint ownership of financial assets (not with real estate, vehicles)
- Beneficiary designations (bank accounts, retirement accounts, life insurance ; policies)
- Death deeds
Why Choose Attorney Brown for Your Estate and Probate Needs?
With nearly two decades of experience, Principal Attorney Christy K. Brown is a No-Nonsense, Forward-Thinking, and Result-Oriented probate, estate planning, and business lawyer, and she’s committed to handling each of her clients’ concerns equally, creatively, relentlessly and in a personal way from the first meeting. Schedule your free 15-minute phone consultation today to learn more about how we can help you through the probate process.