Updated: 2021-01-08 by
If you’ve been named as an executor or personal representative—that is, the person in charge of wrapping up the estate of someone who has died—you may need or want to hire a probate lawyer.
It’s not always necessary to use a probate lawyer (sometimes called an inheritance lawyer). If the estate is modest and doesn’t contain tricky kinds of property like a business or real estate in multiple states, you may be able to handle the process on your own. (There are plenty of resources available to help you with that. A good one to start with is Nolo’s Executor’s Guide.)
On the other hand, if you’re handling a large or complex estate, a qualified probate lawyer can be invaluable. Among other things, a good probate lawyer can help you do some or all of the following:
- Make sense of state inheritance law and understand how the law applies to your situation.
- Determine whether the deceased person’s property must go through probate court.
- Use the right probate shortcuts, if any are available to you.
- Obtain and complete the right paperwork to transfer assets.
- Navigate the local probate court system.
- Determine what types of tax the estate owes and file any necessary tax returns.
- Manage family conflicts and avoid court fights.
- Settle issues with creditors of the estate.
- Manage, appraise, transfer, or sell business interests.
- Handle other types of complex property interests, like commercial real estate or real estate owned in other states.
Like tax law, bankruptcy law, or divorce law, probate law is a specialty subject involving complex legal rules. Someone claiming to be a probate lawyer should be able to point to experience and deep knowledge of your state’s inheritance laws and the local court system.
For an experienced probate lawyer, most aspects of winding up an estate are routine. Chances are good that an experienced inheritance lawyer has helped many clients with needs similar to yours. The lawyer you choose should be able to take you through the probate process from start to finish, given the amount and types of property involved and applicable state law.
If you're going to hire a probate lawyer, make sure you get a good one. Do your homework and comparison shop before you hire someone to represent you.
For more resources, see How to Find an Inheritance & Probate Lawyer in Garlock, CA.