Does this estate need to go through probate and should I retain an attorney? My mother passed away 2 weeks ago. There's no spouse and I'm the surviving child. She has a will and left everything to me. The estate amounts to maybe around $150,000, which includes savings and checking accts and a couple stock funds and CD's. I'm named jointly with her on two accts, but only my mother's name is on the rest. There's no house or other real estate and no car. She received VA benefits and SS checks. Her dividends and monthly checks were small enough so that she didn't owe any income tax. She has no creditors, except final hospital expenses, which should be covered by Medicare and supplemental insurances.
Sorry about the loss of your mother. We cannot answer state specific questions, but can give you some general insights. o Should you hire an attorney? I always think its worth hiring an attorney on a probate matter at least for an initial consultation. There are too many issues and planning opportunities a non-specialist (even a general practice attorney) can miss. That doesnÃ†t mean incurring lots of time or fees, just a consult. If things are as simple as you describe, its reassuring (especially at such a difficult time) to have an expert confirm that. Does the estate need to go through probate? First of all, let's define probate. Probate is the process of having the will filed with the appropriate local court and having you named formally as executor. In many states this is not a big deal and can even be handled without a lawyer. This might be worth doing in all cases. For example, in many estates where there is no need for a formal probate, we still advise many (maybe most) clients to file the original will with the court (this is often a nominal cost) so that it has been done should an issue arise in the future. o You said that there's no spouse and I'm the surviving child. She has a will and left everything to me. This should make matters rather simple. o The facts you gave were that the estate is in total about $150,000. Some courts have special simplified proceedings for small estates. This amount, however, is likely to exceed that threshold so a full probate might be warranted. o Assets include savings and checking accounts and a couple stock funds and CD's. For the accounts on which you are named jointly all you probably have to do is contact the institutions with a death certificate and have the accounts transferred to your name. However, check with a lawyer first. There may be reasons to disclaim or take other actions (e.g., you are in the midst of a lawsuit). o Only you mother's name is on other accounts. For these you will probably need the will admitted and for you to be issued formal letters testamentary (authorization to act on behalf of her estate). o Your mother received VA benefits and SS checks. You should contact both agencies and advise them of the death, date of death, and send letters testamentary and a death certificate. They will have to stop payments when appropriate and you might have to refund any extra checks paid post death. Look into the details of what she was entitled to. o You said that your mother's dividends and monthly checks were small enough so that she didn't owe any income tax. I would still have an accountant prepare a final income tax return to make sure all loose ends are wrapped up. If it is really simply you might try it on your own, but I'd recommend a pro. o Your mother, you said had no creditors, except final hospital expenses, which should be covered by Medicare and supplemental insurances. You should still investigate what procedures are used in your area to assure that you as executrix don't have any liability. In some jurisdictions you can publish a notice in the newspaper (the court might even handle the formalities for a small fee) and cut of the claims of creditors. The probate might really be a simple and inexpensive matter you can handle on your own, but you are always best having a probate specialist oversee matter to be sure. Also, customs and procedures vary considerably from court to court, so there may be different steps that you might need to address, but the above guidance should help steer you. You might also wish to see The Complete Probate Guide (Shenkman, published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.).
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