Albuquerque Attorneys Steer Estates Through the Probate Process

Trustworthy guidance for estate representatives and heirs

Probate is the court-guided process of settling a decedent’s estate by resolving outstanding debts and dispersing the remaining assets to the appropriate heirs. Whether an individual dies with or without a will, the probate court has jurisdiction over the estate until all claims have been settled. Although prudent estate planning can minimize the involvement of the probate court in a decedent’s affairs, few estates have no contact at all with probate court and many can get bogged down in proceedings, leading to unnecessary frustration and financial losses. At Hurley, Toevs, Styles, Hamblin & Panter, P.A. in Albuquerque, our probate attorneys work skillfully to move estates being administered by our clients through the requisite legal proceedings. We also assist actual or prospective heirs if a question exists about the validity of a will or the administration of the estate. Drawing on decades of experience, we work to expedite the process for the benefit of all interested parties.

Understanding the probate process 

In New Mexico, estates valued at $50,000 or less may be exempt from probate under certain circumstances. Certain assets are structured to pass automatically to heirs without supervision from the probate court, such as trusts, jointly held assets and payable upon death accounts. Probate can proceed on one of two different but parallel tracks, depending on whether the decedent left a valid will. 

If a will exists, the person in possession of the document must present the original to the court. Typically, the will designates an executor, and if that person is able to serve, the court will accept the named executor as personal representative for the estate. If there is no will, the court appoints a personal representative, and the estate is settled under New Mexico’s intestacy laws. The duties of the personal representative include the following:

  • Identifying and locating all assets
  • Identifying and contacting all beneficiaries
  • Evaluating claims against the estate
  • Paying all valid claims
  • Paying taxes
  • Distributing remaining assets according to the terms of the will

This process usually takes several months to accomplish. In complex cases, or when a serious dispute exists, probate could last much longer.

Common estate disputes in probate court

Several types of disputes can give rise to estate litigation, such as:

  • Will contests — These cases involve challenges to the validity of the will, often citing undue influence or defects in the document’s drafting or execution
  • Disputes over estate liabilities — An executor might refuse to pay a questionable claim, leading to a lawsuit against the estate.
  • Allegations of an executor’s improper conduct — Executors have a fiduciary duty to perform their duties capably an in total accord with the will’s instructions or intestacy laws. Unreasonable delays, failures to account for assets or the failure to disperse funds according to the testator’s directions might constitute a breach of fiduciary duty.

Estate litigation drags out proceedings and raises the cost of settling the estate, but sometimes it is necessary to secure a result that accurately reflects the testator’s wishes.

Why hire a probate attorney?

An experienced estate attorney can help you avoid probate delays so that assets can be allocated in a timely manner. In contentious cases, skilled legal counsel can prevent conflicts from getting out of hand, while providing an informed assessment of the applicable laws.

Contact an Albuquerque probate attorney about your estate issue

Hurley, Toevs, Styles, Hamblin & Panter, P.A. in Albuquerque guides estates through probate for clients throughout New Mexico. To schedule a consultation with an accomplished probate lawyer, please call 505-888-1188 or contact us online.