Wills & Estate

What Is The Difference Between Probate and Estate Lawyers?

Probate and Estate Lawyers

Do you need clarification about the probate process? 

Do you find yourself wondering what will happen if someone contests the will?

Is estate planning something that has been on your mind lately? 

Do you want to protect your assets from loans or bankruptcy?

You might think that the same lawyer can handle all of these issues. However, that is not the case.

Probate processes, will contestations, creditor claims, and execution of a will are the duties of a probate lawyer.

Estate planning, tax planning, trust administration, and asset protection are the primary duties of an estate lawyer. You should know that a lawyer does not always have to choose between the titles of “probate vs estate lawyer”. They can very well practice both fields as they are so closely related. But we understand the confusion from the perspective of a client.

Thus, in this article, we will discuss the role and responsibilities of probate vs estate lawyer.

Let’s begin!

First, Who Are Probate Lawyers?

We will address your doubt on probate vs estate lawyer when hiring legal help. However, it’s essential that you understand the definitions of both before delving into the probate vs estate lawyer debate.  

Role Of A Probate Lawyer

A probate lawyer, under the law of the United States, is a legal professional. All probate lawyers understand the field of probate law and estate planning to some extent. 

  • They help individuals and families legally distribute assets,
  • Sort out a settlement of the claims of a deceased person,
  • Look after their estate planning,
  • And ensure the legality of all proceedings.

If you hire a probate lawyer, they will carry out your wishes relevant to the will after you are no longer around. They will also ensure legal compliance while carrying them out.

How Will A Probate Lawyer Help You?

Let us elaborate a bit more on the role of a probate lawyer now.

  • Like all lawyers, probate lawyers are also licensed attorneys. They have specialized knowledge and expertise in the area of probate law.  
  • Probate law is a branch of US law that directs how a lawyer/family member handles the deceased person’s assets. 
  • Probate law governs how the family or lawyer manages the deceased person’s debts. It guides the parties to a fair and proper manner of transfer of property. 
  • If you think the probate vs estate lawyer difference will be considerable one, that is not the case. 
  • Probate lawyers also assist clients with their estate plans. They are the legal help we hire when we need drafting of wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and even healthcare directives. 
  • Any dispute related to asset distribution, healthcare decisions, or the guardianship of the deceased’s minor children is the duty of a probate lawyer.
  • As the name suggests, they administer the probate. When someone passes away, the probate lawyer interacts with the executor who was appointed by the deceased. If they do not hire an executor, the court will provide one. 
  • A probate lawyer and the executor will file the necessary legal documents, look for beneficiaries, and arrange for the family to pay off creditors.
  • A probate attorney will handle the following:
  • Asset inventories
  • Debt payment
  • Taxes payment
  • Distribution of assets to heirs and beneficiaries.
  • Clients mainly hire Probate lawyers to represent them in cases of disputes over the validity of a will. 
  • If there are multiple parties to a will and concerns about the distribution’s fairness, then as well. 
  • A probate attorney will go through the will and fight for the rights of interested parties challenging it.
  • A probate lawyer will also advise you on how to minimize estate taxes. They can help you preserve your estates by using trusts and gift deeds. This is a common ground for both estate attorneys and probate attorneys.
  • Probate lawyers help trustees in properly administering trusts. They help the parties stay legally compliant and fulfill all financial duties.
  • Creditors can often start harassing beneficiaries and heirs if the deceased has outstanding debts. You can hire a probate lawyer to look into the claims from creditors. 
  • They will check if the claims are legitimate, arrange for the valuation of the estate, consult family members, and resolve them from the estate’s assets.
  • Probate lawyers help trustees in properly administering trusts. They help the parties stay legally compliant and fulfill all financial duties.
  • Creditors can often start harassing beneficiaries and heirs if the deceased has outstanding debts. 
  • You can hire a probate lawyer to look into the claims from creditors. They will check if the claims are legitimate, arrange for the valuation of the estate, consult family members, and resolve them from the estate’s assets.

Therefore, a probate lawyer plays a vital role in guiding us through the legal complexities that can arise when a near and dear one is no longer with us.

Now that we have a complete understanding of the roles and responsibilities of a probate lawyer, let us move on to the next section of the probate vs estate lawyer discussion. 

Who Is An Estate Lawyer?

Now, we come to the second section of our probate vs estate attorney debate. An estate lawyer is also called an estate planning attorney. They are legal professionals who specialize in family estate management. 

  • Their roles are not too different from those of a probate lawyer. Estate lawyers or estate planning attorneys give legal advice and services related to asset protection, wealth transfer, and overall estate planning.
  • We can consult an estate lawyer to decide what happens to our estate after our death. They also help us minimize our tax liabilities associated with the estate.

However, in this section, we will tell you the distinct role of an estate lawyer, which is indeed very different from a probate lawyer.

Roles And Responsibilities Of An Estate Lawyer

An estate lawyer comes into the picture during your lifetime.

  • The primary role of an estate lawyer is to create a legally valid comprehensive estate plan. They help us distribute our assets while protecting their value by minimizing tax liabilities.
  • Their first and foremost responsibility is estate planning. No two people are the same. Similarly, no two estate plans can be exactly the same. Therefore, estate lawyers work along with clients to get to know each unique case in detail to develop personalized estate plans. 
  • If you hire an estate lawyer, they will take care of wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and even healthcare directives.
  • Did you know that your estate is subject to multiple state and federal taxes? However, you can opt for certain trusts and gifts to get the maximum tax benefits. 
  • An estate planning attorney will help you come up with strategies to minimize estate and gift taxes. 
  • They save you time, effort, and money. An estate lawyer is responsible for preserving your wealth for future generations.
  • They are the guardians of your estate. Estate lawyers are hired by clients to protect their assets from potential creditors, lawsuits, or other risks during their lifetime. 
  • They will tailor specific trusts, gifts, and other legal instruments to fit your financial and legal needs.
  • Your estate planning lawyer will take care of trust creation. These are legal professionals with in-depth knowledge of trust management. 
  • They can establish all types of trusts, revocable, irrevocable, living trusts, and even special needs trusts. You will also get guidance on how to manage these trusts in the absence of a lawyer.
  • Did you know that probate is a very complicated process? To avoid probate, you can consult your estate planning attorney. 
  • Your estate attorney will help clients structure their estate in a way that leaves no need for a probate. This can help reduce your costs and save you time.
  •  You can consult your estate planning lawyer to assign the beneficiaries of your choice. 
  • They will help you plan your financial accounts, retirement plans, and life insurance policies according to your estate’s needs.
  • Your estate lawyer will also help you through your non-financial requirements. Be it for charitable contributions, endowments, or even nonmaterial aspects like family values. They will help you fit them into your estate plans.
  • Be sure to keep your estate plans updated with changing times. As and when your circumstances change, your estate lawyers regularly review and update your estate plans. 
  • The new plans will show the additions and deletions made to your estate, new or past family members, and so on.
  • If you have healthcare plans in mind for later on, you can visit an estate planning lawyer to make provisions for healthcare and long-term care costs. They will come up with strategies, protect your assets, and ensure legal validity.  

Thus, an Estate lawyer will provide legal advice and guidance to you. They will answer and address all your doubts, questions, and concerns about estate planning.  

Probate Vs Estate Lawyer: The Difference

Now that we have clearly discussed the roles and precise definitions of both probate lawyers and estate lawyers, let us address the probate vs estate lawyer debate properly.

Although both play distinct roles related to estate planning, there are quite a few differences between them.

The Areas Of Focus And Timing Are Completely Different.

The focus of a probate lawyer is on the legal procedures involved after their client has died. 

  • As the name suggests, they take care of the whole probate process. 
  • Validation of wills, settlement of debts, payment of taxes, and distribution of assets to beneficiaries and heirs are some of the typical responsibilities of a probate lawyer.
  • Please note that a probate lawyer only gets involved after the death of the client.
  • An estate lawyer’s Prime concern is planning the individual’s estate during their lifetime. 
  • These are the lawyers who manage assets and create instruments for the legal and orderly transfer of wealth, minimization of taxes, and so on. 
  • Please note that an estate lawyer comes into the question during the client’s lifetime. 

A Probate lawyer works closely with the executor or personal representative of the deceased. Together, they take the legal steps to manage the deceased person’s estate. 

  • The precise role of a probate lawyer includes the gathering of necessary documents, 
  • settling disputes amongst beneficiaries, 
  • negotiating with creditors, and lastly, 
  • the fair distribution of assets (as the deceased mentions in the will and through state law).
  • An Estate lawyer focuses on the creation of legal documents during the lifetime of the client. They create wills and trusts according to the client’s wishes. 
  • They help the client establish the framework that will guide asset distribution during their lifetime and even after their death. 

The Post-Death vs. Pre-Death State Of Client.

If we were able to properly explain the role of both types of lawyers to you, you must have understood this difference.

  • Probate lawyers become involved in the legal proceedings after the testator has passed away. 
  • They see to it that the deceased person’s wishes are carried out just as it is outlined in the will. 
  • If the person in question has passed away without a will, the probate lawyer acts according to state law.
  • An estate lawyer especially works with clients during their lifetime. They frame documents that enlist how the client wants their assets to be distributed. 
  • Therefore, the working method of an estate lawyer is specifically different from that of a probate lawyer due to the pre-death and post-death contrast.

Their Roles Differ When It Comes To Tax Planning.

Probate lawyers may address some tax issues of the testator. However, their sole focus is on handling and executing the probate process according to the law. 

  • They start the process by validating the will. Then comes the part where they handle the distribution of assets.
  • While that is the role of a probate lawyer, an estate lawyer looks into tax planning in detail. In fact, that is one of the main reasons why most client’s higher estate lawyers. 
  • An estate planning attorney will come out with tax planning strategies that will minimize estate taxes and save you money. 
  • They come up with structured plans fitting the clients’ personal needs.
  • The methods applied by both lawyers vary in the case of asset protection.
  • You usually do not hire a probate lawyer for asset protection. They only have the responsibility of distribution of assets to the disease person beneficiaries. 
  • The probate lawyer will also first settle the deaths of the diseased and then tend to the distribution part.
  • An estate lawyer is specifically the person you go to for asset protection. They create gift deeds and trust to best protect your wealth for future generations. These are the legal professionals you go to in case of bankruptcy or during claims by potential creditors.

Thus, it is safe to say that a probate lawyer is not responsible for asset protection, but an estate lawyer is.

The Approach Varies.

Each legal professional has a certain theory that they follow. This theory governs their plan of action and method of work. 

  • Their methods also vary with the kind of specialization they have. Similarly, a probate lawyer takes a reactive approach. 
  • They react and take necessary legal steps after the person has died.
  • An estate lawyer has a specifically proactive approach. They create plants during the lifetime of the client itself. 
  • These plans go on to shape the decisions to be taken after the client has passed away. A big part of the job description of an estate lawyer is planning.
  • Probate lawyers are hired for a short term. As soon as the probate process is complete, their services are no longer necessary. 
  • Ideally, the probate lawyer comes into the scene when the person passes away. 
  • They take legitimate care to execute the wishes of the testator. And that’s it their job is completed.
  • The services of an estate planning lawyer usually do not end after a short period. They are constantly in a continual relationship with their clients. 
  • They make changes to the estate planning as required by the clients.

Thus, probate lawyers handle all the legal proceedings that follow a person’s death. An estate planning lawyer works with their clients during their lifetime. Although they may play similar rules in some cases, both types of lawyers have their distinct place in the legal field. Now, let us look at some of the similarities between the two types of lawyers.

Probate vs Estate Lawyers- The Similarities

Probate lawyers and estate lawyers have knowledge in the legal fields of estate planning and administration. These are certain areas where you can hire one or the other to do the job. So, what are they?

  • If you are looking for basic legal advice, both can do the job. Both probate lawyers and estate lawyers are licensed attorneys at the end of the day. 
  • They both have the formal legal education and training to help you in your times of need. 
  • So, if your legal need is urgent and basic in nature, you can visit either of them.
  • Are you looking to make Wills and Trusts? If yes, both probate and estate planning lawyers can help you. 
  • They assist clients in drafting wills and trusts according to their wishes. Both of these lawyers can cater to your need to legally distribute assets. They can also guide you as to who to appoint as executors or trustees.
  • Both lawyers can cater to your tax needs. Tax considerations are a part of Wills, trusts, and estates. 
  • How to minimize tax liabilities is something that a probate lawyer, an estate planning lawyer, and even a tax attorney can guide you on.
  • Another major point of similarity between the two lawyers is that they can help you with your asset distribution. 
  • Since the distribution of assets is a part of the probate process and the estate plan, either of the lawyers can help you.
  •  Both probate lawyers and estate planning lawyers can give you legal advice. Whatever the basic duties fulfilled by a lawyer, they can do it. They can draft trusts, powers of attorney, Health Care directives, and, of course, testaments.
  • Whenever an executor or Trustee needs help, either lawyer can help them out. 
  • Since both of these can take place in the probate process and estate planning, they are common grounds. Both can equally take responsibility for legal documents.

Final Word: Who Is Better?

So, in the probate vs estate attorney debate, who wins? Whom should you hire for your legal needs?

Determining whether a probate lawyer or an estate lawyer is better is highly dependent on your case. Although there are some similar roles for both, probate and estate attorneys serve very different purposes. Now, let us see which type of lawyer is best for your needs.

Probate Lawyer Wins In The Probate Vs Estate Lawyer Debate In These Cases

If your legal needs are specific to Post-Death assistance, you can opt for a probate lawyer. Someone has passed away. 

  • Now, you will require legal assistance to get the probate process started. In these specific cases, a probate lawyer is your choice. 
  • Since they are the experts on the probate and execution process, an estate lawyer will simply not do in this case.
  • There was one testator but multiple beneficiaries. In such a condition, there will be disputes about the validity of the will or if it was made properly. 
  • In these specific conditions, a probate lawyer will represent you and establish the validity of the will.
  • If you are the executor of a will, you might find it intimidating to deal with the whole process. 
  • A probate lawyer will give you the guidance you need to fulfill your responsibilities as an executor or a representative.

Estate Lawyer Wins In The Probate Vs Estate Lawyer Debate In These Cases

If you want to plan out your estate for proper management. If you want to carry out proper distribution of your assets, be it during your lifetime or after your death, an estate lawyer is the way to go.

  • If your legal issue revolves around estate and gift taxes, an estate lawyer is the one you are looking for. 
  • They are the masters of tax planning strategies that can protect your wealth for you and your heirs.
  • If you worry about the well-being of your assets at the hands of creditors, bankruptcy, or lawsuits, an estate lawyer will help you. 
  • All other long-term care plans are also the forte of an estate planning lawyer and not a probate lawyer.

 Therefore, it is essential to know that your circumstances are unique. No one type of lawyer is better than the other types. You must choose your lawyer according to your needs.

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Debkanya Bhattacharya
Debkanya is a lawyer turned writer. With an experience of 3 years, she is your go-to source for all things law. She has a soft corner for the US and international section. When the weekend arrives, you'll find her reading up on politics, Austen, or travel blogs over a cup of coffee.

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