What Does a Probate Lawyer Do?
A probate lawyer's primary function is to advise the personal representative of a deceased person's estate in the administration of the estate. Whether or not the deceased person (decedent) had a will, there are many legal requirements that must be followed in handling the estate. The personal representative (sometimes also called an executor or estate administrator) has many responsibilities and is charged with protecting the rights of both creditors of the estate and heirs.
Most personal representatives are family members who are not terribly familiar with probate law. The law recognizes that, for this reason, the services of an experienced probate attorney are a benefit to the estate, and the attorney's fees are paid from estate funds, not the personal representative's.
Guidance Through the Ohio Probate Process
The probate attorney guides the personal representative through every step of the Ohio probate process, which includes:
- Identifying, valuing, and securing both probate and non-probate assets
- Obtaining, as needed, appraisals of the decedent's property as of the date of death
- Opening a probate case in the probate court for administration of the estate
- Identifying and locating heirs
- Nofifying creditors of the decedent's death
- Paying the decedent's outstanding debts and bills
- Collecting the proceeds of any life insurance policies
- Making elections regarding the decedent's IRAs, 401(k)s, and other retirement plans
- Managing the estate checking account
- Dealing with state and federal income, estate and/or inheritance taxes, including filing returns
- Selling or re-titling estate property as appropriate
- Resolving any disputes between heirs or beneficiaries
- Seeking court permission to take action regarding estate property, as required by state probate law
- Filing accountings and other reports as required by the probate court
- After payment of the decedent's and estate's expenses, distributing the remaining estate assets to heirs and beneficiaries.
Many of these responsibilities have a timetable, and there may be a penalty, for instance, for failing to timely file an accounting. In some cases, a personal representative will be personally liable for failing to carry out duties—even if the failure was unintentional.
For those unfamiliar with it, the probate process can be challenging. An experienced probate lawyer will not only keep a personal representative informed of upcoming deadlines, he or she will help the personal representative complete tasks and filings correctly the first time around. This is especially helpful to personal representatives of an Ohio estate who live outside the state.
Resolution of Ohio Probate Disputes
Most Ohio probate estates proceed without serious incident, but occasionally, there may be a dispute leading to probate litigation. The disagreement may be over ownership of certain property, how the personal representative is managing the estate, or the validity of a will. In cases where there is a probate dispute, an interested party such as an heir or creditor may retain a probate attorney to represent him or her. In such a case, the attorney retained by the estate would represent the personal representative.
The involvement of probate attorneys is especially helpful when there is a probate dispute. Unlike contract and business disputes, probate disputes are often about much more than assets. These conflicts are frequently complicated by grief and residual issues from previous family conflicts. The assistance of objective, experienced attorneys can help bring about a swifter resolution of disputes, preserving family relationships as well as estate assets.
If you are charged with administering the estate of a deceased person, retaining a skilled Ohio probate lawyer is the best way to minimize conflict, reduce your own stress, and expedite the process of settling the estate.