A probate attorney’s job is to guide a personal representative through the probate process. This type of lawyer can also be retained to advise a beneficiary of an estate regarding legal matters that have been brought forth by a personal representative during the probate process. This could be an option when the beneficiary and personal representative do not get along with one another or a will or trust is contested.
Duties Performed for Personal Representatives
When working for a personal representative, a probate attorney is charged with looking out for his or her best interests. Ethically, the lawyer cannot dispense advice to beneficiaries when representing a personal representative. When hired by an estate’s personal representative, the attorney may assist with finding and securing probate and non-probate assets and other duties, including:
- Monitoring the estate’s checking account
- Gathering appraisals and date of death values for the deceased’s property
- Preparing and filing documents that are required by the probate court
- Managing retirement plans, including 401(k)s or IRAs that need to be rolled over or require elections to be made
- Assisting with determining what payments should be made toward the deceased’s outstanding debts and final bills
- Determining whether income taxes and/or estate taxes and how they will be paid
Duties Performed for Beneficiary Clients
Some probate attorneys specialize in assisting beneficiaries with challenging the validity of a decedent’s will or issues with their share of the estate. Other attorneys may litigate separate lawsuits that are related to the estate. This type of attorney may be referred to as a probate litigator, estate litigator or estate or trust litigator.
How is a Probate Attorney Paid?
When a probate attorney is hired by a personal representative, legal fees and expenses, including travel for the attorney are usually paid from the estate provided the court approves of such expenses. If a probate attorney is hired by a beneficiary, he or she will usually be paid by the client directly and not from the estate itself. However, the courts have discretion over who is paid through the estate. It is not unheard of that the court could rule that both sides’ legal fees should be paid out of the estate.
A probate attorney can assist with carrying out the final wishes of the deceased and keep everything on track for settling the estate in a timely manner.