Estate lawyers specialize in legal matters related to assisting clients with formulating a plan for what happens with their assets and responsibilities after death. People call on the services of an estate lawyer for support in preparing the estate plan so that their affairs are managed according to their wishes and not left to others to decide. An estate lawyer may also be engaged in litigation over an estate, such as cases where no will exists or a will is challenged. A qualified estate lawyer is well-versed in federal and state legislation related to settling a person’s estate after death and practiced in preparing legal documents that clearly describe the client's intentions.


Estate LawyerMost estates are legally required to go through probate - the legal process for settling the accounts and assets of the deceased. Even when a last will and testament has been prepared, it must be approved by a court of law. When no will exists, the probate period is more complicated, lengthy and costly and ultimately decisions about the estate are made by court-appointed representatives. While the estate is in probate, some assets are supervised by the court and often unavailable to beneficiaries, potentially causing hardship and additional expense.

All states set a minimum assessed amount that triggers probate. When there is no property or assets to transfer, it isn’t necessary. Many people have amassed more value in their estate during their lifetime than they realize. Whether the estate is extensive or modest, leaving clear instructions simplifies the probate process and minimizes associated costs. Complications, such as guardianship of children, multiple marriages, common-law relationships, special needs beneficiaries, or family business management, raise significant legal issues that are best handled with the help of an experienced estate lawyer, in order to prevent legal challenges to the will.


The fundamental components of the estate plan are the will, tax reduction strategies to reduce the amount of tax assessed when the estate is settled, and powers of attorney - naming someone to act in the client’s interests, in the event the client is not in a position to make decisions at some point in the future. Depending on the size and complexity of the estate, legal instruments may be put in place to achieve the overall objectives of the estate plan. Transferring assets during the client’s lifetime, setting up trusts, and preparing prenuptial agreements are a few examples of the strategies that are available to the client to help reduce taxes and maximize the value of the estate left to beneficiaries.

The need for an estate plan isn’t the domain of the elderly or retired. Estate planning should begin early, as assets and responsibilities accumulate. The client’s relationship with the estate lawyer is often a lasting one. He or she may continue to be involved to ensure that documents reflect altered circumstances of the client’s life as well as changes to legislation that affect the plan. Amending a will has to follow a prescribed process to be received as valid by the probate court. After the client’s death, the lawyer may support a personal representative appointed by the client to steer the estate through the probate process.


Legal documents prepared by an estate lawyer help prevent costly actions arising from confusion about a client’s intentions. But if there is disagreement about a will, or no will exists, an estate lawyer can be retained to represent a client in mediation or litigation to resolve the dispute. Estate administration and litigation are usually different areas of specialization for estate lawyers, though some legal firms are able to offer services in both branches.


States exercise significant influence on the estate plan and how it’s administered after death, though the laws for each state are different. An estate lawyer with substantial experience in estate planning is an advantage for the client - an advantage recognized in court outcomes. When it comes to court actions arising from disinheritance or breach of trust brought against someone acting with power of attorney need to be addressed quickly before assets are distributed. An experienced lawyer has the capacity to respond to such pressures.

The client in search of an estate lawyer should be aware that estate planning requires comprehensive disclosure of personal information to the lawyer. The experience is also an introspective one, leading to a great deal of soul-searching, reflection about personal relationships and eventually decisions related to mental and physical health issues and end-of-life processes. Maintaining open communication with family members and other beneficiaries about the estate plan helps prevent conflict later. In addition to extensive legal expertise, it’s essential to find a lawyer that participates in the relationship with mature sensitivity.