In South Carolina, the probate court is responsible for overseeing the administration of an estate. To begin the probate process, numerous documents and forms must be filed with the probate court when someone dies. The probate process may go on for several months or longer, depending on the estate and whether any disputes arise over its administration. At the De Bruin Law Firm, our probate lawyers are experienced in probate matters and are available to guide clients through estate planning. In addition, our attorneys are skilled in handling probate court matters that may arise, such as disputes between family members.
The probate process is often emotional for families. When handling an estate following the death of an individual, it is important to ensure that everything is distributed according to the decedent’s wishes, or according to the intestate law. As probate attorneys, Gary De Bruin and Aaron De Bruin understand that handling probate is a personal matter. Our status as a small local law firm allows us to provide individualized representation to clients in our community.
When a person dies, with certain exceptions, their estate goes through the process of probate. The probate court works to determine whether a will is valid if the decedent left a will. Then the decedent’s assets are collected, debts are paid from the estate, and then the assets are distributed according to the instructions left in the will.
If no Will was left, then the decedent would be said to have died “intestate.” In these situations, there are no instructions from the decedent for the court to follow. In place of personal instructions, the property will be distributed according to the default rules of succession, which are largely based on heredity. It is worth mentioning here that the default rules often differ from what the person would have wanted. The rules are based on what is believed to benefit most people. Of course, since no two families are truly alike, this average family might not be anything like your real family. This is why it is important to put together an estate plan that works to protect your loved ones.
Probate attorneys often work with the personal representative of an estate in order to assist with the complicated process of accumulating the assets, including life insurance proceeds, retirement accounts and real estate. Estates also have debts to be paid from the assets, including bills and taxes, and attorneys will help to address these issues as well, working to settle these debts by using the appropriate assets. Probate attorneys might also retitle certain property into the names of beneficiaries. Finally, after settling all necessary debts, the attorney will help to ensure that the remainder of the property is distributed properly to the beneficiaries. By helping to sort through the complicated probate process, probate attorneys can help resolve the estate in an organized way, thereby hopefully helping to avoid some of the unnecessary family conflicts that can occur when emotions are involved and people might not understand why certain decisions were made.
Probate attorneys also represent individuals when they become involved in disputes over the distribution of the estate. If the estate is not being properly handled, beneficiaries can hire an attorney to represent their interests in the property or assets.
After a loved one dies, relatives may argue over the administration of the estate, especially if the individual died without a will. Should the decedent’s home be sold or given to a family member? What about the decedent’s car? How will the decedent’s expensive antique collection be divided up? Without a will, the decedent’s estate will be divided up according to certain rules, called intestate succession. Often, survivors are not satisfied with these laws, but, unfortunately, they will have a difficult time challenging them.
All of these disputes may be avoided altogether with the assistance of an estate planning attorney. An estate planning attorney will help individuals think about how they would like for their estates to be divided between family members and loved ones. The estate planning attorney will inform the client of the advantages and disadvantages of different decisions, including any tax consequences. This way, the client is fully informed and knows that his wishes will be properly carried out. The client may make a will as detailed as he or she likes and may even include instructions on taking care of the client’s pets. In addition, the client’s wishes will be memorialized in a will, allowing all of the client’s loved ones to see the client’s wishes at the time of the client’s death. Having a will created will settle many disputes before they even begin.
Our attorneys are experienced in a number of South Carolina probate court procedures. Therefore, we understand that dealing with the probate court is often expensive, stressful, and time consuming. We are able to advise our clients of different ways they may avoid probate to meet their estate planning goals. For example, property may be put into a trust, or the ownership of a home may be set up so that at the time of death, it automatically transfers to another loved one—avoiding the probate court completely. The fewer assets that pass through the probate court, the more quickly the decedent’s estate may be closed.
It is imperative to update one’s will and other estate planning measures after major life events occur. For example, if you separate from your spouse and have filed for divorce, you may want to go ahead and make changes to your will. Before the divorce is finalized, your spouse may still be entitled to a large portion of your estate. In addition, when you have children, obtain new property, or if loved ones pass away, you should consult your estate planning attorney to update your documents.