What Do Estate Lawyer Do?

What Does an Estate Lawyer Do?

Estate lawyers practice trust and estate law. It might sound like estate lawyers spend their days writing wills and trust documents, but estate lawyers actually handle all aspects of the processes that are used to protect and pass along assets upon a client’s death.

Here are some of the issues that estate lawyers handle daily:


Estate Planning

Estate planning requires an understanding of California’s estate and trust laws, as well as a healthy dose of family law and tax law. Estate planning includes:

  • Listening to clients’ concerns and goals for passing along assets to family, friends, organizations, and charities
  • Helping clients to develop a plan for accomplishing their estate goals
  • Advising clients on ways to minimize gift taxes, estate taxes, and income taxes on estate transfers
  • Assisting clients to use trusts and wills while maximizing the benefits of each
  • Counseling clients who own businesses to structure their estates to allow the businesses to continue to operate after their deaths
  • Discussing and preparing advance health care directives and health care power of attorney relationships that provide authority and guidance for another party to make health care decisions on the client’s behalf
  • Drafting wills and trust documents to carry out a client’s wishes in conformity with California’s probate laws

For most people, estate planning is not a single event. Instead, clients will need to continuously update their estate plan to reflect various life changes. Some events that might require an updated estate plan include:

  • Acquisition or sale of assets
  • Retirement
  • Marriage or divorce
  • Birth or adoption of children and grandchildren
  • Death of the executor
  • Death of an heir
  • Children reaching the age of majority

When these events occur, they could affect an estate plan significantly. As a result, a client’s will and trust document may need to be updated.

Advising Executors

When you die, your executor will be appointed by a court to act as your personal representative. Your executor will need to assist the court in wrapping up all of your affairs and distributing property.

Some of the tasks that your executor will perform include:

  • Preparing your estate’s tax returns and paying your estate’s taxes
  • Paying your outstanding debts and bills
  • Selling personal property and real estate
  • Maintaining your home or other properties
  • Collecting account information from financial institutions, pension administrators, and stockbrokers
  • Distributing bequests
  • Paying the estate’s expenses

Your estate might be the first that your executor has ever administered, particularly when you choose a friend or relative to act as executor. As a result, your executor will need the assistance of accountants, financial advisors, and lawyers that are experienced in estate law. These advisors will help the executor to avoid breaking California’s probate law, while they seek to preserve the estate and pay all of its obligations.

Litigation over Estates

Disputes often arise around estates and their administration. Estate lawyers can represent the parties to these disputes during negotiations and in court. Disputes usually center around the application or interpretation of California’s probate laws. This means that estate lawyers are uniquely qualified to advocate for the interests of the challenger or the estate.

Some examples of disputes that arise in regard to estates include:

  • Contested wills (where the will may have been forged, modified, or superseded by a later will)
  • Disputes between heirs and the executor
  • Disputes among heirs
  • Disputes between the estate and creditors or debtors of the estate
  • Tax issues between the estate and the IRS or California Franchise Tax Board
  • Disputes over the instructions in a trust

Probate and trust litigation requires a deep understanding of California’s probate laws, as well as the court’s procedural rules. The courts in the probate department of California’s Superior Court system focus solely on probate matters. As a result, probate lawyers can develop experience and knowledge in probate law and procedures that civil litigators might not have.

When to Talk to an Estate Lawyer

Generally, you should speak to an estate lawyer any time that you have an issue relating to the ways that your property will pass on after your death. You can also speak to an estate lawyer if you have questions about the ways that property will pass on to you upon someone else’s death. 

If you have been appointed to be the executor of someone’s estate and need advice about how to administer the estate, you should speak to an estate lawyer. Finally, if you have a dispute over the way that an estate has been distributed or administered, an estate lawyer may be able to assist you.

Talk With A Trusted Trust And Estate Lawyer

Whether you are engaged in an estate dispute or are seeking representation for creating or updating an estate plan, our attorneys are here to provide you with knowledgeable advice and advocacy. To arrange your initial consultation, please call our law offices today.

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