A probate lawyer helps to validate the last will and testament of a deceased person and executes their last wishes in accordance with the law. After notifying creditors and paying any final debts owed by the deceased, a probate lawyer divides the estate amongst the designated heirs. If no will has been left by the deceased, a probate court follows state intestacy laws to decide how to divide assets.
When a person dies, assets held individually in their name become the property of the probate estate, meaning the heirs must pay taxes to inherit these assets. Bank accounts, valuable personal items, and real estate are usually subject to probate.
An estate lawyer aims to reduce the number of the client’s assets that will be subject to probate upon their death. The goal of estate planning is to maximize the transfer of assets to loved ones and make the probate process more efficient. Estate lawyers employ a wide variety of techniques—from creating a limited liability company or a trust to contributing strategic donations to charity—to reduce the taxable estate for their clients.
The cost will vary depending on the attorney, the size of the estate, and the level of complication of the case. If the estate has liquid assets, the heirs or the executor of the will usually are not faced with any out-of-pocket expenses, as the probate attorney’s fees can be paid out of the estate’s assets once approved by the court.
Scheduling a free initial consultation with us is the best way to determine how much you should expect to pay.
Under Oklahoma law, you are not mandated to hire an attorney to assist you during the probate process. If you are the personal representative, or executor, of someone’s estate, however, we highly recommend it. As the personal representative, you can be held legally liable for any mistakes made during the process, including failing to notify creditors or failing to act in the best interests of everyone involved in the estate. The list of responsibilities for the personal representative is long, and should you make a mistake—intentional or otherwise, the cost to resolve the issue could easily exceed an attorney’s fees.
There’s also the emotional cost of probating a will. You are likely grieving the loss of a loved one, and an experienced attorney can help preserve peaceful relations between you and the other heirs.
The duration of probate will depend on factors such as the size of the estate, the types of assets owned, and the number of interested parties involved, including creditors. Probates generally follow six basic steps: appointing a personal representative, identifying and notifying the heirs, inventorying and managing the assets, notifying creditors, paying any debts and taxes on the estate, and finally, distributing the remaining assets to the designated heirs.
Probating a simple estate under the standard probate procedure might take between six to twelve months. Summary administration for small estates and ancillary probate can reduce the time down to several months.
There are several factors that can impact the cost of probate, including the size of the estate and the duration of the probate procedure. Having someone contest either the will or the appointed personal representative or coming across an atypical issue can increase the cost significantly.
Overall, a family should expect between $3,000 and $5,000 in attorney fees and additional costs. These additional costs include court costs and various administrative expenses, as well as accounting and appraisal fees, both of which often become more expensive the higher the value of the total estate.
Most probates proceed through court as standard and uncontested cases. However, dysfunctional relationships amongst the beneficiaries can create issues that lead to probate litigation.
Probate litigation involves any legal contest filed in a probate court. Common litigation includes challenges to the will’s validity, issues with a trust, questions over guardianship or conservatorship, or suits brought against the personal representative for failing to act in accordance with the law or will. A poorly-selected executor who struggles to uphold the heavy responsibilities of the position can often lead to litigation. Good planning with the help of an experienced attorney is the best way to avoid costly and time-consuming litigation.
If you’re interested in contesting a will, keep in mind that Oklahoma has a statute of limitations that ranges from two to five years following the death of the will’s creator, depending on the issue you wish to contest. It’s best to seek legal counsel as soon as possible.
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