Frequently Asked Questions about Probate
Probate only applies to assets a person owns in his or her name alone: for example, a bank account owned by John Smith with no co-owners. Assets held jointly, assets with beneficiary designations, and assets held in trust do not have to go through probate.
In short, you need a probate attorney when you have lost a loved one and have been appointed the executor or personal representative of their estate.
Many people are tempted to handle the probate process themselves without an attorney. In some cases, this works; however, an attorney can ensure that you don't miss any deadlines or requirements and can explain the whole process to you. The probate process can be expensive, time-consuming, and confusing. If you bring in an attorney at the beginning of the process, you can save yourself time, money, and frustration.
The process begins with filing the will of the deceased and obtaining court recognition of the will. The court will formally appoint the executor (sometimes also called a personal representative) to oversee the process of paying the deceased’s bills, filing taxes, and distributing the deceased’s property according to the instructions in the will or according to state intestacy codes (which are like a will the state has written for people who did not write their own wills).
Court fees will depend on the size of the estate and the state in which you're administering the estate. Legal fees will usually be charged hourly; you should expect to budget from $1000 to $5000 for a minor estate, and more depending on how complex an estate is. Ask your lawyer for an estimate of the total fee.
Good estate planning can often ensure that your estate avoids probate entirely. Don't skimp on estate planning- lawyers charge less for even complex estate plans than they will for administering a complex estate in the probate courts.