When a loved one passes away and the probate process begins, personal representatives are required to hire an attorney in Missouri to assist with the legal process in most cases. You may feel that this is an unnecessary expense, but the probate process is complex with a lot at stake. Personal representatives owe the estate a fiduciary duty and can be held personally liable for mishandling the estate, so hiring an attorney is in your best interest and the cost is taken from the estate.
Here are four situations where an attorney’s help is key to proper probate administration:
- Asset distribution – Distribute the deceased’s assets in accordance with their estate planning documents. Misdistribution can result in a claim from a disappointed or disgruntled heir or devisee. A claim could end up in probate court, where a judge would oversee the dispute and make any necessary decisions regarding the personal representative’s actions.
- Estate taxes – Taxes can be confusing. A personal representative could misunderstand complicated tax requirements and benefits. Missouri does not currently have estate or inheritance taxes, but federal taxes could apply. An attorney will work with your accountant to file any necessary taxes. The attorney will also assist you in collecting benefits and meeting important deadlines.
- Paying or denying claims – A personal representative could fail to pay all debts and claims associated with the deceased’s estate or they may pay debts that should not be paid. An attorney will provide a diligent examination of the deceased’s financial documents. Creditors may choose to file a claim against the estate in order to collect the debts, but not all debts are collectable. This is especially true if the estate is insolvent (owes more in debts than the assets can cover).
- Proper documentation and accounting – After collecting assets, paying debts and handling other aspects of the deceased’s estate, the personal representative must file an accounting of his or her actions on behalf of the estate. If the documentation is not proper, an heir may file a claim and the court is unlikely to close the probate.
Experienced estate administration attorneys know how to help personal representatives distribute assets responsibly and how to prevent costly probate mistakes.
Not all estates are required to go through the probate process, but a probate attorney is still useful in determining whether that is the case in your situation. They can help you determine the type of documents you will need to transfer title of the decedent’s property in the most efficient way.