All About Probate Lawyers

Posted by on Mar 23, 2023 in Legal News |

Perhaps you’re in a position in 2023 where you have to hire a probate lawyer. Or, maybe you’re just curious about what exactly it is a probate lawyer does. In this article, we’ll explain the ins and outs of probate law, what probate lawyers do, and what to look for in a good probate lawyer.

What Is Probate Law?

Firstly, probate is a court process. It involves gathering the assets of a decedent (a deceased person), using the assets to pay the decedent’s debts, and distributing said assets to the decedent’s beneficiaries. If someone passes away without a will or trust and has all their assets in their own name, then it is up to the probate court to distribute properties and money. If these assets have joint owners, then probate is not necessary.

Generally, probate follows these steps:

1. A Petition for Administration is filed with various supporting documents, such as a will. If these documents check out with probate court, a Letter of Administration will be sent in response to grant your Petition.

2. Creditors are notified at this phase, and these debtors must file a claim with the decedent’s estate to get paid. If they don’t file a notice, the decedent’s estate could get out of paying the debt.

3. The estate’s personal representative (the same one who filed the Petition and notified creditors) inventories the estate, determining bank accounts, estate valuation, assets, property, and more.

4. The personal representative pays all claims and closes them.

5. The personal representative files an accounting with the courts detailing the value of the estate and what assets it holds after debts have been paid.

6. After accounting is approved, the personal representative distributes the assets according to the will’s instructions.

Above is an overview of the probate process. With that in mind, how can a probate lawyer help you through it?

What Does A Probate Lawyer Do?

Also called an estate attorney, probate lawyers are involved in various ways throughout the probate process, but their main function is to assist and guide the estate’s personal representative. A probate lawyer might take charge of tasks such as:

· Obtaining appraisals

· Assisting in claim payment

· Collecting life insurance proceeds

· Identifying and securing the assets of an estate

· Preparing and filing probate documents the court requires

· Determining if estate or inheritance taxes are owed and paying those obligations

· Resolving any outstanding income tax issues

· Managing the estate’s checking account

· Making final disbursements after debts have been paid

· Transferring assets to appropriate beneficiaries, including handling titling

These are just some of the ways in which a probate lawyer can help you manage your legal affairs. It helps to have a trained professional guide you through probate, as this process is notoriously time-consuming, labor-intensive, and complicated. Going it alone causes more stress than having a lawyer by your side.

Characteristics Of A Good Probate Lawyer.

Not all probate lawyers are created equal. There are those of us in the profession who are reputable and hard-working and those who are, well, not. That said, the Internet is a beautiful thing (sometimes). On it, you can read reviews and do your own research before committing to an attorney.

A good probate lawyer should have, first and foremost, knowledge and expertise. He or she should also be an effective, prompt communicator. Empathy, integrity, and perseverance and three other traits of a good probate lawyer. Make sure to vet your proposed lawyer thoroughly before deciding to become a client of theirs.

Hopefully, this guide will help you in determining whether you need a probate lawyer and who you should consider. If you’re in need of a probate lawyer, contact WFP Law today.

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Tips On Choosing A Trustee

Posted by on Mar 20, 2023 in Legal News |

Choosing a trustee could very well be one of the most important financial decisions you make in your life, as you’re entrusting this person with critical obligations and responsibilities. That said, not much guidance is out there on what to look for in a good trustee.

We’ve all seen news stories featuring trustees behaving badly and misappropriating property. You have to wonder, were there any warning signs? In this guide, we’ll tell you some “green flags” and “red flags” to watch for when selecting a trustee.

What Does A Trustee Do?

It’s right there in the name—a trustee is a person in a position of “trust.” This term refers to an individual who takes legal ownership of assets held in a trust. The trustee assumes fiduciary duties and responsibility for carrying out the trust’s purposes and goals.

A trustee must manage those assets with diligence. A trust cannot be set up if there is no trustee appointed by the settlor. The trustee, including even a lawyer, who is appointed is entitled to reasonable compensation (usually 1% to 3% of trust assets, though that number varies).

Signs Of A Good Trustee

You, the settlor in this case, have quite the task at hand. Picking a good trustee requires you to find someone you trust to hold and administer the property diligently and reasonably. Here are qualities of a good trustee:

· Honesty. Simple question—does your proposed trustee tell the truth? Honesty about matters both large and small is very relevant to this critical job. You want a trustee that will be upfront about the trust’s assets and what they’re doing with them.

· Dependability. The trustee should be dependable. He or she should show up to meetings, take phone calls, and be a reliable person who communicates effectively and promptly.

· Organization. Being a trustee requires a lot of organization. You need to know dates and obligations and remember pieces of vital information. The more complex the trust, the more you need your trustee to be organized.

· Stability. Is the trustee’s life stable? Does he or she have a steady job? Are they constantly embroiled in personal conflict? Do they struggle with addiction? We all have our own problems, but there is a major difference between a person who is stable and reliable and one who is not.

· Financial Experience. It might be best to pick a trustee with some financial experience, at least when it comes to their own financial affairs. Oftentimes, a

trustee’s position is financially-oriented, so having experience in this sector is a good idea.

· Ability. Does your trustee have the time and energy to devote to this job? He or she should have a bandwidth that can accommodate this critical role.

· Impartiality. A trustee should treat everyone in the trust equally, showing no favoritism, regardless of his or her personal opinions.

These characteristics are all important in a trustee, and you should consider each in turn when appointing someone to this critical role.

Red Flags

Much like there are “green flags” when picking a trustee, there are also major red flags, too. You should, firstly, rely on your gut. Your potential trustee might have all the characteristics above, but, if you have a bad feeling about them, even an inexplicable one, think twice before appointing them.

Here are some common red flags that should bar a trustee from being considered:

· Prior Bankruptcies. Declaring bankruptcy is a big deal, and it means that someone is unable to manage their own financial affairs. This is a major red flag to watch for.

· Prior Foreclosures. Additionally, if your proposed trustee has prior foreclosures, this could indicate issues with money management. For most, their house is their biggest asset—what did this person do to lose it?

· Any Criminal History. Everyone deserves a second chance, but not everyone deserves to be your trustee. Run a simple background check on your proposed trustee, checking court dockets to see if there are criminal cases or lawsuits against them in local courts, whether closed or open.

· Lack Of Neutrality. If your proposed trustee seems to have very strong opinions about those in the trust (if they’re vindictive or a “side taker”), this could affect their impartiality.

· Dishonesty. Of course, the last thing you want is a trustee with a history of lying or obfuscation. Even small lies can easily become big, snowballing ones, especially in the world of finance.

The best way to ensure you’re picking a good trustee is to get some outside perspective. Contact a WFP attorney to decide who should be your trustee, as they can help you make this life-changing decision.

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How Divorce Affects Inheritance

Posted by on Mar 3, 2023 in Legal News |

February was the month of love, and now we’re moving into March, the month of luck. Alas, you’re neither in love or lucky if you’re getting divorced (well, we guess it depends on your situation), and divorce can affect quite a few financial aspects of your life.

Inheritance, for example, can be affected by divorce. In this guide, we will give you an overview of how divorce affects inheritance and what you can do to ensure your family remains as minimally-impacted as possible.

First, Some Definitions

Before we start on this rather complex area of law, we should provide you with some basic definitions first. These include:

· Divorce. Divorce consists of the process of canceling a marital union, reorganizing legal duties and responsibilities, and dissolving the bonds of marriage between a couple. Divorce in Florida is governed by state law.

· Inheritance. Inheritance includes private property, debts, entitlements, privileges, obligations, and rights that occur upon an individual’s death. In this case, we will be talking about private property (money, land, etc.) that is handed down through Florida’s laws of distribution and descent.

· Marital Property. Marital property is acquired by a couple during marriage, no matter whose name is titled on the property.

· Non-Marital Property. Non-marital property includes that which each spouse owned before he or she got married. This includes property the spouse brought into a marriage and kept in their own name during the marriage.

Is Inheritance Marital Property In Florida?

As it pertains to inheritance, Florida law states that assets acquired separately by either spouse, including assets which are considered inheritance, are non-marital, and separate. Additionally, if you sell your inheritance (assuming it is land or something tangible) and buy anything with proceeds from that sale, that new purchase does not count as inheritance.

During A Divorce, Which Assets Are Protected?

In Florida divorce cases, non-marital assets are protected. Those assets that were acquired while the couple was married are marital property, unless a post- or pre-nuptial agreement states otherwise. Even if a spouse titles marital property in his or her name, this asset is unprotected during a divorce.

Is My Spouse Entitled To My Inheritance If We Divorce?

Because inheritances are considered non-marital property received by a spouse separately through devise, a non-interspousal gift, or bequest, your spouse cannot

inherit any portion of your inheritance. It is considered a non-marital asset and, therefore, off-limits.

Do Ex-Spouses Inherit Anything In Florida?

Divorce effectively cancels out or removes an ex-spouse from a will. This means that if you die and you are completely divorced, your ex-spouse will not be able to inherit anything. That said, if you and your ex are still on good terms, Florida laws do permit a post-divorce designation of your ex as a beneficiary.

How Can A Pre- Or Post-Nuptial Agreement Help Me?

Prenuptial agreements are written contracts a couple enters before they are married. These contracts address each person’s rights, assets, and debt responsibilities if the marriage ends. Prenups, as they are known, can be very helpful to people before they get married, as they could thwart a contentious divorce. They can also protect your assets in the event your marriage doesn’t work.

Postnuptial agreements are contracts a couple signs after they are married. These are similar to prenup agreements, as they outline debts, assets, and responsibilities, but they are not signed until after the couple weds. Again, postnups are very helpful in protecting your assets if the marriage does not work out.

As you can see, this is somewhat of a tricky area of law. Though the law might seem clear-cut, it is important to talk to an attorney to straighten out any inheritance-related issues during your divorce. Contact a WFP attorney today to learn more.

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