Probate and Administration Proceedings
When someone dies, in most circumstances, their affairs will need to be taken care of through the probate process (if they had a last will and testament) or the administration process (if they did not have a last will and testament). These processes involve petitioning the court for authority to handle the deceased person's affairs, and then actually administering his/her estate, i.e., collecting and distributing assets, paying debts, selling real property, accounting to beneficiaries, filing estate tax returns, etc. While very simple estates can often be handled without the assistance of an attorney, it is often more efficient and less costly to engage an attorney at the outset to make sure that all aspects of probate/administration are dealt with properly.
Estate Tax Returns
Depending on the value of one's estate, federal and state estate tax returns may need to be filed on behalf of an estate and, if the estate is taxable, estate tax will need to be paid. Filing an estate tax return may be advantageous even where the estate is not taxable, for example, for purposes of "portability," i.e., transferring the value of the deceased person's unused lifetime federal exemption amount to his/her surviving spouse.
When an estate has been fully administered, and sometimes before, the executor or administrator of the estate may be required to file an accounting, which sets forth specifics on all assets collected and distributed, and all fees, expenses and commissions.