If you have landed on this page, you may well know that estate law is complex. Only 33% of Americans have created estate planning documents to help their heirs distribute their property after death. It’s no surprise, then, that disputes arise in families and heirs quite often in the United States. Most of these disputes are between siblings and involve property or land. With such a breadth of cases, there are multiple areas of practice that attorneys focus on.
When looking for an attorney to help with either establishing an estate or distributing property after someone’s death, you might be confused as to who exactly you should be looking for: an estate planning attorney, a probate attorney, or a probate litigation attorney. The answer to that depends on the situation:
Establishing an estate and will
Estate planning attorney
Administering an estate with or without a will
Addressing disputes due to creation or administration of estate
Probate litigation attorney
Estate Planning Attorneys
Estate planning attorneys specialize in helping individuals create comprehensive plans for the distribution of their assets and properties after they pass away. These attorneys work closely with clients to understand their specific goals and preferences. Then they draft legal documents such as wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and healthcare directives to ensure that those wishes are carried out.
One of the main tasks of an estate planning attorney is to minimize the potential for disputes and confusion among beneficiaries. They do this by providing clear instructions and establishing legally binding documents that outline how the assets should be distributed, who should be responsible for managing them, and any specific conditions or provisions that need to be followed.
Minimize taxes and avoid probate
Additionally, estate planning attorneys assist clients in minimizing estate taxes and avoiding probate. They are well-versed in the complex tax laws and regulations surrounding estates, and they can offer strategies and recommendations to help individuals protect their assets and minimize tax liabilities for their heirs.
Overall, estate planning attorneys play a crucial role in helping individuals plan for the future and ensure that their assets are distributed according to their wishes while also considering the best interests of their beneficiaries.
While estate planning attorneys focus on creating plans for the future, probate attorneys deal with the legal process of administering an estate after someone has passed away. Probate is the court-supervised process of validating a will (if one exists) and distributing the assets to the rightful beneficiaries.
When an individual dies, their assets and debts become part of their estate. The probate process involves the following:
Identifying and collecting the deceased person's assets
Paying off any outstanding debts and taxes
Distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries according to the instructions in the will or the state's laws of intestacy if there is no will
Aid the executor throughout the probate process
Probate attorneys guide the executor of the estate (the person responsible for administering the estate) through the probate process, ensuring that all legal requirements are met and helping to resolve any issues or disputes that may arise. They handle tasks such as filing necessary court documents, communicating with creditors, valuing the estate, and distributing assets to beneficiaries.
Help resolve disputes
In cases where there is no will, or the will is contested, probate attorneys play a critical role in representing the interests of their clients and resolving disputes through negotiation or, if necessary, litigation.
Probate Litigation Attorneys
Probate litigation attorneys specialize in handling disputes and conflicts that arise during the probate process or the administration of an estate. These disputes can occur due to various reasons, such as challenges to the validity of a will, claims of undue influence or lack of capacity, disputes among beneficiaries, or allegations of misconduct by the executor.
Litigation regarding disputes
Probate litigation attorneys have extensive knowledge of estate laws and courtroom procedures. They work closely with their clients to understand the nature of the dispute and provide legal representation to protect their interests. This can involve gathering evidence, presenting arguments in court, negotiating settlements, and advocating for their client’s rights and wishes.
Whether it's resolving conflicts among beneficiaries, contesting a will, or addressing issues with the administration of an estate, probate litigation attorneys are skilled in navigating the complexities of estate law and providing effective legal solutions.
Find an Estate Attorney
In summary, the primary distinction between estate planning, probate, and probate litigation attorneys lies in their respective focuses within the realm of estate law.
Estate planning attorneys help individuals plan for the future by creating comprehensive plans, while probate attorneys handle the legal process of administering estates after death. Probate litigation attorneys specialize in resolving disputes that may arise during the probate or estate administration process.
Depending on your specific needs, you can seek the assistance of the appropriate attorney to ensure your estate planning or probate matters are handled effectively and in accordance with the law. Expertise.com finds and reviews the top professionals in estate law (among many other industries). To find the best estate planning attorneys in your area, use Expertise.com’s legal directory and our free concierge service to schedule a consultation.
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