Whether you realize it or not, there is a very good chance that you will need the services of a probate attorney at some point during your lifetime. Of course, in order to know when you need to hire a probate attorney you first need to know what kind of legal matters probate law firms handle. While every law firm is unique, and decides independently what type of legal matter sit will handle, most probate law firms handle the same basic types of legal matters.
What Is Probate?
To begin with, it is important to understand what the term “probate” refers to if discussing the type of cases probate law firms handle. Probate refers to establishing the validity of a Last Will and Testament. Probating an estate, therefore, refers to the legal process by which the decedent’s estate assets are identified and eventually passed down to beneficiaries according to the terms of a Will or heirs according the Missouri laws of intestate succession.
Probate Law Firms – When Might You Need One?
Although not an exhaustive list, the following list includes some of the most common scenarios in which you might need the assistance of a probate law firm:
- Creating an Estate Plan – probate lawyers help people create estate plans, which usually begin with the execution of a Last Will and Testament. Your Will may serve as the foundation of your estate plan; however, as your estate grows and becomes more complex, you will likely need to review and revise your estate plan by adding in additional tools and strategies that help protect your growing estate. Probate law firms help people create and update estate plans.
- Contesting a Last Will and Testament — if you have recently lost a loved one, and you are a beneficiary or heir of the estate, you have an interest in the probate of the estate. If you have reason to believe that the Last Will and Testament that has been submitted to the court for probate is not valid, for one of several allowable legal grounds, you may have the right to contest the Will. Contesting a Will can become very complicated which is why you should engage the assistance of a probate lawyer before you begin.
- Serving as Executor or Personal Representative of an estate – if you just found out that you were named as the Executor of the estate of a recently deceased loved one, or if you have decided to volunteer as the Personal Representative of a deceased loved one who died intestate (without having a Will in place at the time of death), you have a long and potentially complicated road ahead of you given the numerous duties and responsibilities of an Executor/PR. Most people who serve as an Executor/PR retain the services of a probate law firm to assist them throughout the probate of the estate.
- Administering a Trust – when you create a trust you must appoint a Trustee. The Trustee is responsible for managing he trust assets and administering the trust terms. The Trustee has a fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries of the trust and, as such, is in a position of considerable authority within the trust. Given the importance of the Trustee’s position, many Settlors (the person creating the trust) choose to appoint a probate attorney as the Trustee of the trust to ensure that the position is handled correctly.
- Petitioning for Guardianship – probate courts also have jurisdiction over incapacitated and disabled minors and adults. Therefore, if you are considering filing for guardianship over a minor or an incapacitated adult, or if someone has filed for guardianship over you, you need the assistance of a probate attorney to help you navigate the guardianship process. A probate law firm can help you petition for guardianship or help you object to the appointment of a guardian if you are the subject of a guardianship petition.
For more information, please download our FREE estate planning worksheet. If you have additional questions or concerns regarding probate law firms, contact the experienced Missouri estate planning attorneys at Amen, Gantner & Capriano, Your Estate Matters, LLC by calling (314) 966-8077 to schedule an appointment.