What does a probate lawyer do?
We've all seen it on movie and television screens countless times. A character passes away, and his or her grieving (or not) relatives gather for the reading of the will. The actor playing an attorney reads off a list of who inherits what, various characters look pleased or not, and as the scene ends, millions of viewers are left with the impression that this whole leaving a will and inheritance thing is pretty darn quick and easy.
But as with many other things in life, the process of leaving an estate to heirs is a little more complicated than Hollywood makes it seem. Moving through the legal process that ensures that estates pass to intended parties without dispute is an involved process, but it needn't be a frustrating one. And to ensure that the end result is a binding and legal chronicle of your last wishes, one needs a probate lawyer. People sometimes mistakenly think that such a lawyer deals with issues involving incarceration. And while "probate" and "probational" certainly sound similar, the meaning of these words couldn't be more different.
"Probate" is the process of proving to a legal authority that the last will and testament of a deceased party truly is that person's last will and testament. How is this done and why should an attorney specializing in probate be the one to do it? Everyone's heard the story of the fortune some billionaire left some stranger in a diner on a napkin. Good story. Never actually happened. Not unless that napkin was first shepherded through the probate court process. As part of this:
- Legal notices must be posted
- Any creditor who may have claims on the estate must be given a chance to respond
- If a designated will executor isn't an attorney, he/she must be trained to execute the will
- Certain kinds of property (like a home) must be separated from other assets
- "Heirs" can file claims against or object to a will, but there are time limits
- If a deceased person was the subject of a lawsuit in life, that person's estate can be sued as well
- Arrangements may have to be made to pay off the deceased person's debts with part of the estate policy benefits (as with life insurance).
Probate lawyers oversee all of these steps before probate, which must be completed before a will becomes a legal, binding document. Duties can include tracking down relatives who haven't been heard from in years (and legally confirming that they're alive or dead), but are (or are not) named as heirs in a will.
An individual can legally file a will without a probate lawyer, but making a mistake in this process invalidates it, and the correction process can take months or even years. What's more, probate requirements can vary by state. California probate requirements are less involved than some other states, and a California probate lawyer may actually be able help clients protect some assets from the probate process altogether.
The process of drawing up a will and preparing for the probate process can seem a daunting task, but getting help now can save heirs expense and time later. Protect your legacy by contacting a California probate lawyer for a consultation, call Patton Law Group for a free consultation.
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