Over the course of your lifetime, you will likely require the services of an attorney for a variety of different reasons. Knowing which type of attorney you need for your legal issue or problem is crucial. Just as you would not allow a pediatrician to treat a tumor in your brain, you wouldn’t hire a criminal defense attorney to help you pursue a breach of contract case. How then, do you know if you need a Sacramento probate attorney to help you with a legal matter?
What Is Probate?
First, it helps to gain a firm understanding of probate is. Probate is the legal process that is typically required following a person’s death. Among the goals of the probate process are:
- Identifying, locating, securing, and valuing the decedent’s assets
- Authenticating the decedent’s Last Will and Testament if one was left behind
- Litigating any challenges to the decedent’s Will
- Notifying creditor’s of the estate and allowing them to file claims against the estate
- Paying approved claims
- Calculating and paying any state and/or federal gift and estate taxes owed by the estate
- Transferring the remaining assets to the intended beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate
Why Might I Need a Probate Attorney to Help Me?
Probate can be a lengthy and complicated process, depending on the size and value of the estate being probated. There are several common situations when you would be wise to consult with an experienced probate attorney, including:
- You were appointed as the Executor of the estate. If the decedent of the estate executed a Last Will and Testament prior to his/her death that named you as the Executor of the estate, that means that you are responsible for overseeing the probate of the estate. Although you are not legally required to retain the services of a probate attorney to assist you, most Executors do to ensure that they do not make costly mistakes. In addition, it can take a considerable amount of time and energy to oversee the probate process for a moderate to large estate all by yourself which can be problematic if you have a full-time job and/or family of your own. In addition, the law imposes a high standard for the performance of an Executor’s duties and, if that standard is not met, the Executor could be subject to monetary sanctions and/or removal from the Executor position. A probate attorney can help you by handling the legalities involved in the probate process.
- You are a beneficiary or heir of the estate and wish to challenge the Will. Losing a loved one is difficult enough; however, if you also have reason to question the validity of the Will submitted to probate it can be that much harder to handle your loss. In California, like other states, you must have a recognized legal ground on which to contest a Will. Simple being unhappy with the inheritance you were left in the Will is insufficient grounds on which to contest the Will. For this reason, it is always best to consult with an experienced probate attorney to determine if your concerns about the decedent’s Will amount to the legal grounds necessary to pursue a Will contest.
- You are a creditor of the estate. If the decedent owed you money, and you have any reason at all to believe you may have a problem getting your claim approved, consult with a probate attorney before filing your claim against the estate. If your initial claim is denied you will have to litigate the issue which will take time and money that might be avoided if you work with a probate attorney ahead of time.
- You wish to structure your own estate so it will avoid probate. Giving the time and expense involved in probating an estate, many people choose to incorporate estate planning tools and strategies int their own estate plan to help their own estate avoid probate after they are gone. One key to avoiding probate, for example, is to convert as many assets as possible to non-probate assets. If you do not want your loved ones to have to wait until the end of the probate process to receive the assets you intend them to have, it is in your best interests to work with a probate attorney now to structure your estate plan accordingly.
Contact a Sacramento Probate Attorney
Please download our FREE estate planning checklist. If you are not sure whether or not you need a probate attorney, contact us at the Northern California Center for Estate Planning & Elder Law to find out today by calling (916)-437-3500 or by filling out our online contact form.