Career Description for a Probate Lawyer

Attorneys Who Help Settle Estates

Lawyers discussing estate
••• PhotoAlto/Eric Audras / Getty Images

A probate lawyer is a type of state-licensed attorney who, through years of mentoring, continuing legal education, and experience understands how to advise personal representatives, also known as executors, and the beneficiaries of an estate on how to settle all of the final affairs of a deceased person, known as a decedent.

What a Probate Lawyer Does

A probate lawyer, also known as an estate lawyer or an estate attorney, is responsible for taking a personal representative through the entire probate process from start to finish. All of the steps involved in probating an estate depend on the probate laws of the state where the decedent lived at the time of death as well as any other states where the decedent owned real estate. For instance, in Florida two different types of probate processes allowed by state law depending on the value of the decedent's probate estate and how long the decedent has been dead:

The steps required for probate will also differ based on whether the decedent died testate, meaning with a valid last will and testament, or intestate, meaning without a valid last will and testament. Therefore, the probate lawyer must be well versed in the probate laws of the states where the lawyer is licensed to practice.

Note that a probate lawyer can also be hired to advise the beneficiary of an estate on legal and other matters presented to the beneficiary by the personal representative during the course of the probate process. This can happen if the beneficiary doesn't get along with or know the personal representative very well.

Also, note that some probate lawyers specialize in representing personal representatives and beneficiaries of an estate who become involved in separate lawsuits related to the decedent's estate or when a beneficiary challenges the validity of the decedent's last will and testament through a will contest. These types of attorneys are known as estate litigators, probate litigators, or estate and trust litigators.

How a Probate Lawyer Advises and Assists a Personal Representative

When representing the personal representative of an estate, the probate lawyer advises and assists with the following:

© The Balance 2018 
  • Locating and securing both probate assets and non-probate assets
  • Obtaining date of death values and appraisals of all of the decedent's property
  • Preparing and filing all documents required by the probate court in a timely manner
  • Collecting life insurance proceeds
  • Rolling over and making appropriate elections with regard to retirement plans, including IRAs and 401(k)s
  • Advising on the payment of the decedent's final bills and outstanding debts
  • Keeping track of the estate's checking account
  • Determining if any estate taxes and/or inheritance taxes will be due at the federal and state levels, and if so, then figuring out where the cash will come from to pay the taxes
  • Addressing income tax issues
  • Settling disputes among personal representatives and beneficiaries
  • Assisting with the sale of estate property
  • Requesting court permission for various actions as required by applicable state probate laws
  • Retitling the decedent's real estate into the names of the estate beneficiaries if it is not being sold
  • Distributing what's left of the decedent's assets to the beneficiaries after paying bills and taxes