If a loved one passes away, you should administer their final affairs in a South Carolina probate court with little delay or conflict. When disputes arise how to handle property within an estate, a probate attorney is commonly retained to assist with probate administration.
Lexington probate lawyers can ensure that the process does not result in unintended outcomes as to property distribution, and the family members dispose of parts in the estate according to the intent of the deceased. Individuals in need of assistance in the probate process should seek attorneys in Lexington practicing within a probate law firm with the knowledge to understand the often complicated and emotionally charged problems that arise from probate estates.
A Google search for estate planning topics will likely turn up some resources on how to avoid probate. Most of us have probably seen television dramas or celebrity news stories which involve protracted court battles over the distribution of an estate. These conflicts are often set in probate court and require a great deal of prolonged legal intrigue.
However, these cases are the exception to the rule; instead, the reality of the business of probate courts mostly consists of the usually mundane business of sorting out one’s final affairs with little fanfare. If the pop culture depiction of the probate process does not provide an accurate representation of what probate is, then what do probate courts do?
Understanding the South Carolina Probate Process
Probate is a legal process in which a court oversees the administration of a decedent’s estate. The South Carolina Probate Code outlines the court’s role in the probate process. The Probate Code states that courts oversee legal disputes concerning the affairs of decedents, missing persons, protected persons, minors, and incapacitated persons. Probate Courts also act as fact-finders and apply the law to discover and make effective the intent of a decedent in the distribution of property left behind.
Lastly, probate works to oversee the process of liquidating the estate of the decedent and making a distribution to his successors.
The most common tasks probate courts carry out involve administering the distribution of estate assets by overseeing the administration and appointing an executor. A South Carolina probate court also oversees the executor to ensure proper administration of the will and to prevent malfeasance.
South Carolina probate courts also adjudicate the validity of wills (determines if a will is valid and those in the will follow the terms). Therefore, if a decedent dies, a probate court applies legal succession rules, oversees creditor claims against the estate, and adjudicates will contest against the validity of the will and the interpretation of its terms.
Lastly, a South Carolina probate court oversees creditor claims against the estate and adjudicates anyone contesting against the validity of the will and the interpretation of its terms.
What Services Does a Lexington Probate Lawyer Offer?
If an estate requires administration by a South Carolina probate court, a Lexington probate attorney can offer guidance in several areas.
South Carolina Probate Planning and Guidance
Often a person dies with a well-drafted will left behind. A will contains explicit directions regarding how to distribute the estate. In this case, a Lexington probate attorney files a petition with the court to admit a decedent’s will to probate. After you file a petition, an executor is appointed by the court, which grants the power to oversee the estate’s affairs.
Under the best-case scenario, the Lexington probate lawyer and the executor will distribute estate assets without dispute or delay. However, in circumstances that the decedent dies intestate (without a will), a will’s language/intent is unclear, or if there are contested claims to the estate from beneficiaries or creditors, a Lexington probate lawyer may need to take on a more engaged role protecting estate assets.
South Carolina Probate Litigation
Under the best-case scenario, little or no disputes arise as to the distribution of assets to heirs and beneficiaries. However, there are circumstances where an interested party listed in the will or a creditor seeks to contest the administration of the will. In this case, a party seeking to dispute the administration of a will can contest or challenge the will.
Will contests involve an interested party presenting a claim to the South Carolina probate court alleging that the administration of the will is improper.
Advising the Estate Executor or Personal Representative
A Lexington probate attorney often provides legal guidance to an estate’s executor personal representative. Additionally, a Lexington probate attorney may be responsible for performing any of the following tasks when advising an executor: managing life insurance proceeds, creating an inventory of the decedent’s assets; finding lost estate assets; securing an appraisal of estate assets; handling creditor claims; managing the estate’s financial accounts; ensuring taxes are paid and preparing and filing any required paperwork and public notices to heirs and beneficiaries with the probate court.
Avoiding Probate in South Carolina
One of the significant considerations in estate planning involves making sure an individual’s estate is not placed in probate. The two main reasons for avoiding probate relate to time and expense. An estate administered by a probate court will take longer due to the legal formalities of the process and cost more due to court fees and legal costs.
These expenses are paid from the estate and will reduce the value of the estate left over for heirs. In addition to the costs related to probate, probating an estate can lead to results that are not entirely in line with a testator’s intent. Therefore, estate planners try to use tools that avoid probate
Probate property includes all estate assets that pass through a will or intestacy. Non-probate probate property is anything not subject to a will or intestacy. (property in joint tenancy, life insurance, payable at death accounts, Inter Vivos trusts,
Probate is not always required. For example, the following list outlines some of the more common assets not subject to probate: trusts, certain types of real property; retirement and insurance accounts with a named beneficiary; pension plans; assets whose ownership are payable-on-death or transferrable-on-death; and small estates (estates under a set valuation).
Other assets, such as those listed in a will; cases whereby the decedent died intestate (without a will) or where a third party has a claim to estate assets or contests how to distribute assets will require the probate court’s involvement.
Call a Lexington Probate Attorney Today
A Lexington probate attorney experienced guiding estate planning, and the probate process can provide valuable advice regarding what to expect from the probate process and how best to protect estate assets. Our practice can offer guidance on to individuals across all facets of South Carolina probate administration law. Contact our Lexington office today at (803) 271-0909 to discuss how we can assist with your needs.