Q: I have resisted hiring a lawyer to assist in our family's regular estate claim as the BaltoCo court gives
all necessary info and guidelines for the Executor to proceed, but more importantly to avoid any unnecessary legal fees. As a beneficiary only myself, I suppose I can file a grievance with the court if need be. Can you tell me what a probate lawyer can do that I wouldn't be able to do myself or is it simply the weight of a lawyer to expedite a more thorough response (I really don't know)? What can I reasonably expect a probate lawyer to charge me?
A: Unless there is some malfeasance or basis to object to the PR's handling of the estate or performance as PR, then there is little reason to hire a lawyer. It will simply cost you money. Lawyers charge by the hour, and that can range depending on how experienced the lawyer is. A couple to several hundred dollars per hour. The PR is entitled to retain an estate lawyer to assist with managing the estate/probate process, and the lawyer and PR are each entitled to be paid a reasonable hourly fee for their services, with their combined compensation being capped at the statutory limit (the statutory cap is $1,800 of the first $20,000 of the gross estate value, and 3.6% of the balance of the gross estate value). A court, in extraordinary cases, may by motion grant a legal fee in excess of the statutory cap. In addition to the estate lawyer fee, the PR is separately authorized to hire "litigation counsel" to defend him/herself and the estate in any claims or litigated matters filed by anyone else, or to represent the estate in filing its own lawsuits for the benefit of the estate. The court authorizes the retention of a litigation counsel, and must approve all fees paid, but there is no pre-set cap on litigation attorney fees. All fees are paid out of the estate assets. The reason I am explaining all this is, when heirs or legatees file claims, complaints, commence litigation, pursue actions seeking court intervention, etc., the PR will respond by hiring a lawyer using estate funds to defend and respond to these actions. The estate assets will get depleted by the legal fees incurred in all this litigation. You as the heir do not have any right to get your legal fees paid by the estate, so you have to go out of pocket. In the meantime, your share along with every other heir's share of the estate assets will be less on account of all the legal fees expended in litigation. Therefore, the decision to start a fight with the PR is one you need to make judiciously, to be sure there is not only merit to your complaint, but that the cost and fees justify the potential remedy. If you do not know whether there is reason to be concerned, then pay a lawyer for an hour or so to review whatever it is that concerns you, and to advise you as to whether there appears to be anything amiss.
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A: At the outset it isn't clear if you are both the Personal Representative and an heir (or only an heir). In the average (routine) estate heirs do not engage lawyers while it is common for the Personal Representative to hire a lawyer to assist with the estate administration.
A probate lawyer can help the Personal Representative ensure that all legal obligations are followed. A lawyer will be able to assist with obtaining bond premiums, obtaining an EIN, lining up appraisals of personal property, notifying creditors, preparing and filing accountings in a timely fashion to promptly conclude the estate. The law does not obligate a Personal Representative to use the services of a lawyer. If you do not wish to hire a lawyer for full representation it is often advisable to sit down with an experienced estate lawyer for a consultation just to make sure you understand the legal obligations.
It is strongly advisable to retain an attorney to assist with deed transfers.
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