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Probate Resources

Do I need a lawyer for the probate process?

It is a good idea to at least talk to a probate lawyer when a close family member dies or when you have been named as Personal Representative in a person's Will. You do not have to have a lawyer to open a probate, but a lawyer can help you decide whether you need a probate, make sure that you do everything you are required to do and help you work through any problems. A lawyer will also have special knowledge to help with situations not covered by this self-help section. You should choose a lawyer with whom you feel comfortable, who can act promptly and who answers your questions completely.

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How much does a probate lawyer charge?

There is no standard fee arrangement to handle a probate, but the most common arrangement is to charge by the hour. Some lawyers will ask for a retainer (cash deposit) in advance. If the estate has cash assets, some lawyers may not ask for any payment until the court appoints you as the Personal Representative. You should consider asking several lawyers how much they charge and what their estimates are for the total cost of your probate. You should keep in mind that if there are unexpected matters or if beneficiaries, heirs or creditors challenge the probate, the costs can be much higher.

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What are unbundled legal services?

Traditionally, a probate lawyer handles the entire probate from start to finish. Some lawyers now offer "unbundled legal services" which means that they agree only to give advice or to do specific tasks with which you need help. If you can handle most of the probate on your own but need advice in certain areas or special documents prepared, this type of arrangement can save the estate money. On the other hand, it is probably a better idea to let a probate lawyer handle the probate if the estate is complicated or if there are disputes between beneficiaries, heirs or creditors.

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Where can I find a probate lawyer?

There are several ways to find a lawyer to handle or help with a probate when someone dies. The following resources can help you find an experienced probate lawyer:

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What is the Alaska Lawyer Referral Service?

The Alaska Lawyer Referral Service (LRS) is a free service offered by the Alaska Bar Association which will give you the names of lawyers who practice in the area in which you need help. When you call the Alaska LRS, you should tell the person who answers the phone that you are looking for a probate lawyer. The person who answers the phone is not a lawyer and cannot give you legal advice. He or she will give you the names and telephone numbers of three lawyers who practice in the probate area. All lawyers listed with the Alaska LRS have agreed to charge no more than $125 for the first half-hour consultation. You should talk to the lawyer to learn how much he or she will charge after the first half-hour. The Alaska Bar Association does not make any guarantees about the experience or background of the lawyers listed with the Alaska LRS.

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Where can I find an estate planning lawyer?

Many lawyers prepare Wills and trusts. If your estate or goals are complicated, however, you should consider seeing a lawyer who is a member of an estate planning section or organization. If your estate may be subject to federal estate tax, you should consider seeing a lawyer with tax experience. The following resources can help you find an experienced estate planning lawyer:

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Where can I find a certified public accountant?

Although the person who died may have filed his or her own tax returns or used a retail tax preparation service, it is a good idea to talk to a certified public accountant (CPA) when someone dies. A CPA is an accountant who has passed a certification exam and has met certain education and experience requirements. A CPA who has experience with tax returns filed after a person's death will be able to make sure that you take advantage of the tax laws that benefit the estate and can file more complicated tax returns, such as estate income tax returns, trust and business income tax returns and estate tax returns. The following resources can help you find an experienced CPA:

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Where can I find more information?

The following resources can help you do your own research about probate and learn more about the steps involved in a probate:

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Rev. 27 February 2013
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