As is evident from the previous post, an executor’s duties can be
incredibly time-intensive and complicated depending on the type of estate
that is being probated.
Often an executor will hire a lawyer to help guide him or her through the
probate process and/or do many or all of the court filings on their behalf. An
attorney can easily file the court documents, notify the appropriate beneficiaries
and authorities, help collect the assets, deal with creditors, negotiate
distributions, and obtain the final court order in a timely manner. Despite
the benefits, some executor’s prefer to avoid paying attorney fees
which can be quite substantial for probate.
When deciding whether you need to hire a lawyer, it is helpful to consider
the following factors:
Size of the estate. Small estates can avoid probate proceedings altogether. In California,
if the estate is worth $150,000 or less, it does not need to go through probate.
Family dynamics. If the family of the deceased person is generally getting along and uncontentious
regarding the estate property, there is less of a need for a lawyer. However,
if there seems to be conflict and threats of suing the estate, it is best
to hire a lawyer immediately as probate lawsuits can be a huge drain on
estate assets and tear a family apart.
Types of assets in the estate. If the assets in an estate are relatively simple to dispose of such as
bank accounts, investment accounts, vehicles, etc. an executor may be
able to probate them without much complication. However, if the assets
include real estate, business, commercial real estate, or other things
of that nature, it is often necessary to hire a lawyer in appraising and
managing these assets.
Relative size of estate debts. If there seems to be more debts owing from the estate than there are assets
to pay such debts, it is advisable to hire a lawyer. Many states have
complex creditor laws and determining which debts have priority is something
best left to a legal professional.
State and federal taxes on the estate. Most estates are too small to owe federal estate tax, but many do qualify
for state tax. If the estate owes state or federal taxes, it is important
to seek professional legal and tax advice.
Will property in other states or countries. If the deceased owned property in just one jurisdiction, the probate process
can be much simpler. But the complexities of probating assets in other
states or countries often make it worth hiring a legal professional to
manage the process and make sure the laws of each jurisdiction are complied with.
In general, if the executor is unfamiliar with the probate process but
wants the estate to be wrapped up in an efficient and timely manner, it
is often advisable to seek professional legal help. A lawyer can streamline
the process and do the requisite filings correctly the first time so that
the estate can be probated as smoothly as possible.