More than ever before, adult children may live several states away from their parents. But just as ever, parents tend to name their adult children as executors of their estates. The result is that many people are faced with the task of administering an estate in a state where they don’t live, and whose laws and courts are unfamiliar.
If you’ve been named the executor of an estate, you’re likely trying to make sense of your obligations and carry out your duties. Serving as executor (also known as a personal representative, or PR) of a deceased person’s estate is a serious responsibility. Your primary job is to protect the assets of the estate until such time as they can be distributed to heirs. That job encompasses many tasks, including opening the estate, gathering and inventorying assets, notifying heirs and creditors, paying taxes, and filing accountings. Many tasks are difficult to manage if you live hundreds of miles away.
Fortunately, you don’t have to undertake this work alone. Personal representatives are entitled to the help of a probate attorney to guide, advise, and assist them in the administration of the estate. In fact, an attorney’s assistance is considered to be a benefit not only to the executor, but to the estate as well. For this reason, attorney fees come out of estate funds, not the executor’s pocket.
How a Michigan Probate Attorney Can Help You Long-Distance
Honestly, we advise almost all executors, whether local or out-of-state, to retain a probate attorney to help with the administration of an estate. The reason is simple (and it’s not to drum up business): probate attorneys have managed hundreds of estates. Most executors have never handled one before. There is a learning curve, and a task that might take you a day to figure out on your own can be handled by your attorney, or their paralegal, in fifteen minutes. Time is money, so why would you spend your valuable time puzzling over a form that someone else can easily help you with?
With the guidance of an experienced probate attorney, documents you need to file with the probate court will be prepared correctly and filed in timely fashion. One executor compared dealing with a local probate court on his own to being on the television show The Amazing Race: “You have to complete an unfamiliar task, sometimes using unfamiliar language, deal with crowds, and work your way to the person who can help you advance. But if you haven’t done everything perfectly, you get sent back to the start and have to do everything all over. ” If you live out of state and have just traveled to the area for probate business, this can be tremendously frustrating.
Getting things done right the first time means that the estate can be administered more quickly and heirs can receive their inheritances sooner. Significantly, the advice of an attorney can also keep an executor from inadvertently doing or failing to do something that could cost the estate money, and possibly even result in personal liability for the executor. A Michigan probate attorney is familiar not only with state law, but with the local courts, making sure you dot all the “i’s” and cross all the “t’s” for your court filings.
One of the biggest advantages of having a local probate attorney, of course, is that they can be present on your behalf for court hearings. Most estates don’t have many hearings, and those that there are tend to be straightforward and brief. Even so, having an attorney appear for you saves you the time and money you’d need to expend for travel to Michigan.
Choosing a Michigan Probate Attorney From Out-of-State
If you don’t live in Michigan, you may not know where to begin in looking for a probate attorney to help you. The attorney who prepared your loved one’s estate plan is a good place to start; most estate planning attorneys also do probate work.
There are a few specific criteria that you, as an out of state executor, will have for a Michigan attorney. Chief among these is responsiveness. If you are counting on a probate attorney to be your representative in Michigan, you want someone who will not only keep you well informed of the estate’s progress, but who will promptly answer any questions you have about the tasks you are carrying out on your end.
Just as important is having an attorney you can trust. Before retaining someone, do your research to make sure they haven’t been disciplined for unethical behavior. Above and beyond that, however, trust how you feel when you talk to them. Are you confident that they know what they’re doing and that you can rely on them? If so, you should be able to work successfully throughout the probate process, even at a distance.
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