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Why You May Need an Attorney Upon a Loved One’s Death


The first time many people encounter the courts or the potential of hiring an attorney is after the death of a close relative. Oftentimes a bank or financial institution will reach out requesting information, or someone is notified that they are a beneficiary of an estate, or that they have inherited some responsibility under the terms of the loved one’s will. This information or responsibility might feel overwhelming, on top of the grief inherent in losing a loved one. How do you even know what to do? You may have even gone down to the courthouse seeking answers, only to have them tell you that you  need to speak with an attorney, which can be understandably frustrating. What does this mean? Why would, or should, you need to engage with an attorney?

If a bank has contacted you saying that you need to see an attorney or go to the courts, it is highly likely that your loved ones’ assets need to go through the probate process. There are many steps to the probate process, and there is a reason that professional attorneys are often sought out to help people navigate through the complexities of the process. To determine whether your loved ones’ (decedent) estate needs to go through probate, who is supposed to be in charge of the estate, and other necessary details, you need to determine the extent of the decedent’s assets and how they are titled (how they are owned). There are generally four types of asset ownerships to be aware of, discussed in more detail below.

  • Probate Assets: Generally speaking, a probate asset is one that the decedent owned, standalone, in their name. A wills and probate attorney can help you put these assets through the probate process. Probate will likely be necessary for those assets that are held solely in the decedent’s name upon their death, because ownership of the item cannot automatically pass to anyone else.
  • Joint Tenancy Assets with Survivorship: These are any assets that are now owned by someone else automatically, because they were co-owned with the decedent prior to the decedent’s death. For example, a home that is co-owned would not ordinarily need to be put through the probate process, since the surviving owner still holds ownership in the home. Ordinarily the surviving owner of the asset can take necessary actions to claim control of these assets without putting the item through probate.
  • Assets with Beneficiary Designations: These are the kinds of assets that would be distributed to the named beneficiaries. These assets might include items such as life insurance,  401ks, or IRAs.
  • Trust Assets: Assets owned in a trust would likely be distributed by the terms designated in the estate planning documents. There are different kinds of trusts, and the terms would vary according to each individual circumstance. Working with an experienced attorney would help those family members left behind navigate the terms of distribution set forth in the estate plan. However, many individuals choose to build trusts into their estate plan because it is generally much easier to settle a trust than to put all of the items that would go into a trust through the probate process instead.

There are many variables in play when handling the effects of a loved one. An experienced wills and probate attorney can help.

Contact Suncoast Civil Law

Whether you are looking for help in settling the affairs of a loved one, or hoping to get your own affairs in order, the wills and probate attorneys at Suncoast Civil Law can help. Contact our office today.