“Why do I need a probate attorney?” We hear this all the time from clients who lost a loved one. Indeed, this is probably the most common question that beneficiaries and executors ask our lawyers.
We find that there are basically three reasons why people ask this question. First, they don’t fully understand what New York probate attorneys do. Second, Google has led them to believe they can do it themselves. Lastly, and most commonly, they think that they can’t afford a lawyer.
We examine these reasons below to illustrate why, in most cases, you should hire a probate attorney.
What Does a New York Probate Attorney Do?
Simply, a probate attorney ensures appropriate handling of estate beneficiaries, creditors, and taxes. In all cases, property must be handled per New York Probate Law. It doesn’t matter whether a person died with or without a Will. Usually, this means going to court.
A probate attorney can be valuable to different parties for different reasons.
For example, Beneficiaries hire us to verify estate assets and debts. Generally, beneficiaries are in the dark during probate. So, it’s not unusual for an Executor to misrepresent things in his favor. There are many things an attorney can do to keep an Executor honest.
On the other hand, Executors may hire us to deal with the scrutiny. Or, they might simply want to free themselves of court appearances, paperwork, or record keeping. Sometimes, they hire us to deal with complex property rights, or unclear Will statements.
Indeed, when you act as an Executor, you assume a fiduciary duty to the estate. That means if you miss a filing, misread the Will, or mismanage assets, you can be sued by beneficiaries.
Finally, a top reason Executors hire probate attorneys is to avoid or relieve family friction. Maybe the decedent left behind a complicated family situation. Or, maybe the Executor doesn’t get along with a beneficiary or family member. Even if things were fine before, you might be worried that money will bring out the worst in people. Sadly, we have all seen the tightest of families fall apart over an estate.
Good probate attorneys are neutral and handle sensitive issues professionally. We offer a layer of protection to Executors who are concerned about appearing unfair.
Can I Handle Probate Myself?
Most lawyers will not tell you this because they want your business. But, you do not actually need a probate attorney for small and simple estates.
New York actually defines “small estate” for you. Generally, if the deceased had less than $50,000 in money and assets, it qualifies. Small Estates enjoy a streamlined probate process that most executors or beneficiaries can handle themselves.
What do we mean by “simple”? Well, if your spouse died without a Will and no children, you’d get everything. Likewise, if you are the only child of your only surviving parent. Those have relatively fixed outcomes.
Things get complicated if you have minor children, step-children, or pre-deceased children. Or, if you’ve lost a mother who was married to someone who is not your father. Or, when your relation to the deceased is more distant than spouse or offspring. Then, probate can be stifled by many factors.
Google and court websites can outline major steps to probate and paint a picture of smooth sailing. They do not account for the many ways that probate can go sideways. Make no mistake, it often does with Wills, large sums of money, and complex property issues.
For example, people can challenge the Will or even your fitness to be Executor. Or, the estate might get sued by creditors, or a foreclosing bank. Perhaps, one beneficiary wants to reside on property that the others want to sell. Or, you might have difficulty collecting savings or retirement accounts. Illegitimate creditors and long-lost “cousins” come out of the woodwork with hands out. Yes, this happens with large estates. Frequently.
Sometimes, a client has a free consultation with our probate attorneys and decides to go it alone. We wish them well. But, more often than not, they return looking to hire us. It’s rare that a client who starts probate with the idea that it’s “easy,” makes it through the process with the same opinion.
I Can’t Afford a Lawyer
Many folks don’t consult a probate attorney because they believe they can’t afford us. They imagine a high retainer or hourly rate, and bills running out of control. But, there are a number of ways we can arrange for payment of our services.
For example, a common false belief is that an executor or beneficiary always pays for the lawyer himself. That’s not true. At Velella & Basso, we will assess your case during a free consultation. If you qualify, we can offer contingency or deferred payments. In that case, we would collect directly from the estate, or your beneficiary share.
Even if you’re not eligible for deferred payment, we can work within your means. We sometimes offer a low flat fee or retainer, depending on the case.
You have nothing to lose. Call Velella & Basso today at (718) 931-1220, or contact us through the website for a no obligation consultation.
The information on this website is not legal advice. It is for information purposes only. No user of this site should act or refrain on the basis of this information without seeking legal counsel. This website does not create an attorney-client relationship. Photo 120124279 © Nataliia Mysik | Dreamstime.com