Understanding The Estate Probate Distinction

In essence, an estate is everything you own that will be transferred to your heirs or other beneficiaries upon your death. Whereas, probate is a legal process whereby the court supervises the process of transferring a decedent's property after death. Put simply an estate is a thing (assets) while probate is a court process that is often used to dispose of a person’s estate.

An estate probate lawyer is often asked if a person’s estate must pass through probate after their death in order for their assets to transfer to their heirs or other beneficiaries. The answer to this question depends on how your estate is strucuted and what your estate plan looks like.

Under estate probate law, probate may be required. In other cases probate may be avoided.  What many people fail to recognize is that probate is not a requirement for transferring property after death; in fact, many people’s final affairs are administered without court involvement. In the event an estate requires administration involvement by the probate court, hiring an experienced probate law attorney can alleviate a number of the headaches and uncertainties associated with the probate process.

Ideally, a person dies with a well drafted will that contains explicit directions regarding how their estate will be handled. In this case, a probate attorney files a petition with the court to admit a decedent's will to probate. After the petition is filed, an executor is appointed by the court, which grants the power to oversee the estate’s affairs. Under the best case scenario, the probate lawyer and the executor distribute estate assets without dispute or delay.

However, in circumstances where the decedent dies intestate (without a will), a will’s language or intent is unclear, or if there are contested claims to the estate from beneficiaries or creditors, a lawyer for probate may need to take on a more engaged role protecting estate assets.   

Benefits of an Estate Probate Lawyer

An estate probate attorney’s expertise is not imited to only probate law; their expertise can also extend to real estate law, debtor-creditor law, commercial law, and a wide range of other areas of financial law.

A estate probate attorney can assume many roles in the probate process. In the most common scenario, the probate lawyer serves as the guide for the probate process managing the estate. Many probate estates are wrapped up with little to no controversy. In these cases, the beneficiaries agree on how the estate should be handled with a probate lawyer simply shepherding the case through the probate process.

In this capacity, probate administration lawyers act in the role of a manager locating and securing assets, conducting valuations and appraisals of the decedent's property, addressing any life insurance policies, retirement and personal investment accounts, paying the decedent’s creditors and satisfying any of the decedent’s outstanding tax liabilities. 

A probate lawyer may also advise the beneficiary or an estate creditor, particularly if the beneficiary’s rights in the estate are being disputed by the personal representative or other beneficiaries. Also, probate lawyers specialize in litigating disputes that arise as part of the decedent's estate such as when a beneficiary challenges the validity of the decedent's will through a will contest. 

In a will contest, a party asserts a right to be paid from estate assets as either a beneficiary or creditor. In these cases, skilled counsel can assist a claimant in navigateing the often turbulent and emotionally charged waters of a will contest, particularly amongst family members. 

A decedent’s final affairs are often administered in probate court with little delay or conflict.  When disputes arise as to how the property within the estate is being handled an attorney for probate matters is commonly retained to assist with probate administration.

Probate lawyers can ensure that the process does not result in unintended outcomes as to property distribution, and the estate is disposed of according to the intent of deceased. Individuals in need of assistance in the probate process should seek probate attorneys practicing within a probate law firm with the expertise to understand the often complicated and emotionally charged problems that arise from probate estates.

Estate Probate in Orange County

When seeking a lawyer for probate, a probate attorney can assist personal representatives, executors or beneficiaries in cases before the Orange County Probate Court. A probate lawyer can provide legal advice regarding what to expect in the probate process and the steps needed to protect estate assets best or assert claims against a probate estate.

Finding an experienced Orange County probate lawyer offers a measure of protection for those administering an estate and can serve as a strong advocate on behalf of beneficiaries seeking to recover estate assets rightfully theirs under the final wishes of their passed loved ones. From either perspective, an estate probate attorney can guide prospective clients in the right direction.