Working With Your Estate Lawyer

If you've been chosen as the executor of an estate, you may need the help of a lawyer. Some estates are simple and you won't need much help. Other estates, however, will require a greater degree of probate knowledge. To find out about some estate situations that might have you working more closely with a lawyer, read on.

Estate Debts Are High

One of the major functions of probate is to pay off creditors. If your loved one owed money on a credit card or a loan, it must be dealt with during probate. If there is a high debt load and estate assets are lacking, it can get tricky to know what to pay. Some debts have a higher priority than others, and a lawyer should advise you on what to pay first, what never needs to be paid, and what should only be paid later on.

Estate Assets Are High

When dealing with assets, the higher the value, the more likely you are to need legal help. Often, estate owners have wisely planned ahead and placed many of their assets in trusts or used other means of avoiding probate. For example, the funds in checking accounts, savings accounts, and investment accounts can pass directly to a beneficiary without having to pass through probate using payable-on-death designations. Property that has to pass through probate means a longer process and legal fees. Other ways to avoid probate and make an executor's job easier include altering real estate deeds for ownership and creating trusts that hold property within it.

Estates That Contain a Business

You will need legal support if the deceased was a business owner. The business will either have to be sold or passed down to someone. If there are partnership issues, probate can get complicated. There are also complex tax issues when dealing with business matters, and unless you are trained in this field, you will need a lawyer.

Estates That Owe the IRS

The law dictates that the taxes of the deceased be settled before probate's completion. If your loved one is leaving behind tax debts (state or federal), the estate might be tied up for some time. Estates that are of high value will incur estate taxes on top of the usual income taxes that are owed each year. This is a separate tax issue with its own return.

The Will Is Contested

Finally, if family members are in contention over the contents of the will, you will need legal help. You might not necessarily have to go to court—legal expertise can assist with compromises that settle matters outside of court.

Speak to an estate or probate attorney to learn more. Go to sites like if you need to find an attorney to work with.​