When to Get a Lawyer for Estate Probate Problems

By Anna Green

After a loved one’s death, hiring a lawyer and potentially entering into a legal dispute is not an appealing choice. Taking a case to probate court can also be an expensive and lengthy process. The probate process can be complex, however. Laws for estate and probate matters differ from state to state and in certain cases, trying to handle complicated or contested estate problems yourself may be even more costly and time consuming.

Assets and Debts

If your family member passed away but did not have a will, it may be necessary to hire a lawyer, especially if the deceased individual had many assets and debts. In such cases, it may be difficult for you to determine which debts are valid and how best to pay off these debts from the estate’s funds. An attorney can provide advice on how to handle these matters. Likewise, if your family member had stocks, real estate investments or other significant assets, you may need an attorney to help you have these assets appraised to prepare for probate court.

Conflicting Family Interests

When your loved one dies without preparing a will, family members may have disputes about who will become executor of the estate and handle debts and asset division. If the family members cannot agree on who will act in this role and decides to take these concerns before a probate judge, it may be helpful to hire a lawyer to protect your interests. Similarly, if you are acting as executor of the estate but have family members who are questioning your choices and actions, an attorney can help you ensure that you are acting properly and do not compromise your rights.

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Inappropriate Actions

If the court appointed another family member as executor and you believe that he is acting inappropriately in this role, hiring an attorney can help you address your concerns under your state’s laws and procedures. For example, if the executor is not filing income tax returns for the estate or is not paying off the deceased individual’s debts, a lawyer can help you address these issues.

Contested Wills

If your loved one dies with a will but another family member or potential beneficiary contests it, hiring an attorney can help you protect your rights. Likewise, if you want to contest a will--for example--if you believe your loved one was not of sound mind when she created her last will and testament, an attorney can help you understand your options and the procedures for contesting the will.

Understanding the Law

Although there are many self-help resources for helping you navigate the probate process, you may still have unanswered questions or be unsure about your rights and responsibilities, particularly if you are serving as executor of the estate. In such cases, hiring a probate lawyer is a good way to protect your rights to your loved one’s estate and ensure that you are acting responsibly and ethically.

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