When a loved one passes away without a trust, family members are left to suddenly navigate probate court — a complicated and intimidating process involving decisions with real financial consequences. Often, people wonder: do I need a probate lawyer? Can I go through California probate on my own?
Probate court — particularly California probate court — is likely to be one of the most complex and financially impactful legal matters an individual is likely to face in their lifetime. There is no one cookie-cutter way to navigate probate court, as every individual’s and family’s situation is different. Often, even if a will was left behind, probate court must determine the document’s authenticity and hear challenges from family members regarding what they believe they are entitled to from the estate.
In other words, probate court is often extremely messy. Besides the sheer amount of legal paperwork and specific documents that require meticulous filing, probate scenarios often involve a contentious situation between two or more family members who disagree on who should get what. Additionally, if proper legal steps are not taken, a significant share of the estate can be eaten away by otherwise unnecessary taxes and court costs.
Are you required to hire an attorney when you find yourself facing probate court? No, you are not required to have one. However, most resources and knowledgable authorities strongly recommend hiring one to help you with the difficulties described above. Unfortunately, California has a particularly tricky probate code, with several nuances unique to the state. This adds to the legal headache and potential consequences for individuals and families who are usually also dealing with the emotional grief of having lost a loved one.
What are the advantages of hiring a probate attorney?
- Peace of mind. Probate court involves months of document filing, legal requirements, court appearances, and more. The work required is stressful, complex, and nearly constant. Hiring a probate attorney not only ensures that these steps are done correctly, but that you don’t even need to concern yourself with the minutiae of the legal process.
- Save money. Probate attorneys collect their fees at the end of the probate process, as a fixed percentage of the estate’s value (the percentage is set by the state of California, not by the attorney). This means there is no up-front cost to you. Additionally, self-filed probate cases are notorious for making clerical mistakes that result in unnecessary court fees and taxes taking huge bites out of the estate value that could have been avoided entirely by a knowledgable attorney.
- Avoid infighting. As mentioned, family members often strongly disagree as to the distribution of inheritances. If your situation involves a contentious matter, having an attorney ensures that a calm, level-headed third party is there to act as your proxy and avoid making an already awkward and testy legal situation even worse.
Are you required to hire a probate attorney if you are facing probate court? No. Is it in your best interest to hire an experienced probate attorney to handle the matter for you? Absolutely.
A no cost consultation with a licensed and experienced California probate lawyer regarding your specific situation is available by calling :
1-888-LAW-3111 Monday-Friday, 8am to 6pm.
— Michael Avanesian
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