HAWAII PROBATE LAWYER
Whether you have been told that you need a probate of your loved one's estate, or an ancillary administration to deal with an asset or real estate interest in Hawaii, Victoria Lin Sakamaki is a Hawaii probate lawyer with nearly 20 years of experience specializing in legal services related to probate law and the settlement of estates. KPRESS Law Hawaii is a boutique law firm designed to prioritize probate cases with the intent to bring about the most efficient resolution of your probate matter possible.
The law office of KPRESS Law can handle your probate proceeding whether such proceeding must be filed in Honolulu, Hawaii, or in the counties of Hawaii, Kauai, or Maui. KPRESS Law can help clients who are seeking appointment as personal representative or executor of the probate estate navigate through the probate process, which varies slightly in each county of the State of Hawaii. As your probate attorney, the KPRESS Law firm will assist you many ways with legal advice and in all aspects of the estate's administration and eventual distribution of decedent's assets.
Below is an overview of some of the concepts and common questions you may have regarding your probate case. Feel free to contact the law office of KPRESS Law if you do not see an answer to your query below.
Do You Need a Probate Administration in Hawaii?
Common triggers of a probate requirement are a deceased person's ownership as follows:
1) decedent's ownership of any interest in real property located in Hawaii (which would exclude any interest in real property that is owned as joint tenants and the other joint tenants, or at least one joint tenant is surviving);
2) decedent's ownership of accounts, such as bank accounts, in decedent's individual name, the cumulative value of which exceeds $100,000, which do not have a beneficiary designation; and
3) ownership of an annuity or retirement account without a surviving beneficiary designation, and these accounts, together with any accounts described in #2 above, exceed $100,000 in value.
Does a Revocable Living Trust Avoid Probate?
Although a decedent completed estate planning, even advanced estate planning, part of which included a revocable living trust or other type of trust, the creation of the trust itself during the estate planning process itself is insufficient to avoid probate of an asset whose title was left unchanged during the deceased person's lifetime. If title to decedent's real estate interest, account or other personal property interest was not changed to the name of decedent's trust, the interest may be subject to probate. Often, it is only when access to the deceased person's account is attempted, or when a real estate interest is being sold, that the legal issue of title realized. At that point, escrow or the financial institution will require you to seek legal advice from a probate lawyer regarding what is needed to gain the legal authority necessary for handling the asset or interest still titled in the decedent's individual name (and not the decedent's revocable living trust or other trust).
Does a Will Avoid Probate?
If a deceased person's estate has a legal issue that requires a probate, a probate IS required, even if the decedent has done some estate planning and executed a Last Will and Testament. Probate laws and probate courts in fact exist primarily to determine whether 1) a decedent's Will was validly executed under Hawaii law, 2) the Will reflects decedent's intent, and 3) verifies that the person seeking appointment as personal representative or executor of the estate is proper.
Do I Need an Original Copy of the Last Will and Testament?
If the decedent executed a Last Will and Testament, it needs to be submitted to the probate court. If the ORIGINAL signed Will cannot be located, it is possible to submit a copy of the Will, but submitting a copy of the Will requires a formal probate proceeding in Hawaii, which essentially means that a court hearing is necessary. A formal probate, as discussed immediately below, is more time consuming and costly. Therefore, it is best for family members or loved ones to educate each other on where estate planning documents are located, and designate a safe place or safety deposit box for the storage of the original Will
What Happens During the Formal Probate Process in Hawaii?
If circumstances of your probate case require a court hearing, a formal probate must be initiated. After the initial filings, a court hearing will usually be scheduled around 2-3 months from the date of the initial filings. During the court hearing regarding the probate matter, the probate judge will review any submitted legal document and determine, among other things, whether the Will is validly executed under Hawaii law, and whether the personal representative or executor seeking appointment is qualified. The probate judge will also issue ruling on any other issue or controversy brought before the court. The probate attorney fees will be higher in a case where a formal probate proceeding is required, due to the court hearing and attorney appearance requirement, as well as additional documents that need preparation and filing in a formal probate case.
What Triggers a Formal Probate?
If any conflict or disagreement over appointment of the personal representative, or any other issue regarding the decedent's estate or circumstances surrounding the deceased person's estate planning exists, a formal probate proceeding may be initiated. The probate judge will give each party an opportunity to be heard and decide on proper resolution of the conflict. Another situation that will require a formal probate, aside from not having the original Will as discussed above, is when the proper jurisdiction of decedent's probate proceeding is in the First Circuit of the State of Hawaii (Oahu), and decedent passed more than 5 years ago with a Will.
What Happens if Decedent Did Not Execute a Will?
Where upon decedent's death, it is certain that the decedent did not execute a Will during decedent's lifetime, the decedent's natural heirs will be determined by Hawaii's intestate succession laws. The distribution of all of decedent's assets, including personal property, bank accounts, real property, value of business interests, etc. will be governed by the intestate succession laws. The laws dictate what lawmakers believed would be the decedent's natural heirs in determining the beneficiaries of a decedent's estate. For example, if the decedent had a surviving spouse and all the children of decedent were also the children of the surviving spouse, and both the decedent and surviving spouse had no other children, all of the decedent's estate would pass to the surviving spouse. KPRESS Law can assist you in interpreting the intestate succession laws if applicable in your probate case.
What is the Informal Probate Process in Hawaii?
Certain probate administrations may be done via the informal probate process in Hawaii. During this process, a court proceeding is not required. Therefore, it is possible that a personal representative may be granted powers to act on behalf of the decedent's estate much sooner than in a formal probate proceeding. Generally speaking, the informal proceeding is possible and appropriate in situations where the relationships between the family members and all other heirs or devisees are harmonious, and all agree to the personal representative seeking appointment as such. The upside of an informal proceeding is that powers of a personal representative may be granted very quickly in contrast to a formal proceeding. Downside of an informal proceeding is that there is no adjudication of any matters in the informal proceeding, so matters within the informal proceeding could be contested and superseded by initiation of a formal probate. The informal process, then, is most appropriate in amicable, non-contested situations, where all parties are well-known and communicative with each other.
What are My Responsibilities as Personal Representative?
A need for probate usually arises in connection with a legal issue encountered when attempting to sell a real estate interest or upon attempting to gain access to accounts or other property of a deceased person. After contacting a probate attorney, filing of probate documents, and successful appointment, the personal representative must inventory, secure and gain access to all real estate interest(s), accounts, and personal property of the decedent. Once access is obtained and any pressing legal issue dealt with, the probate lawyer can help facilitate further estate administration.
During the estate administration, the personal representative or executor is responsible for proper and prompt payment to all creditors, as well as taking steps to limit the creditors' claim period where appropriate via publication of notice to creditors. Payment will be made from the probate estate, and if estate funds are not enough to pay all creditors in full, proper allocation per Hawaii statute must be made. It is necessary to ensure that the decedent's final federal and state income taxes are timely paid and all tax returns are promptly filed. A review of decedent's stored documents and personal belongings may uncover a necessity to file prior un-filed income tax returns and pay any taxes due. Also, if the value of decedent's estate is at or near the applicable lifetime estate tax exemption amount, a computation of whether any estate taxes are owed, and determination of whether an estate tax return filing is necessary for decedent's estate, to either report the estate tax owed or to port any unused lifetime estate tax exemption amount to a surviving spouse. As your probate lawyer, KPRESS Law will keep you mindful of the due date or dates for prompt filing of all tax returns and any other necessary filings.
After all costs of the estate, including any federal and state income taxes due, and any other liability of the decedent is satisfied, the personal representative can then work to toward distribution of the remaining estate assets, but if the date of the creditor claim period has not yet closed, the personal representative must be cautious about any distributions or face potential liability. The law office of KPRESS Law will help the personal representative navigate through the Hawaii probate process and applicable probate law, as well as provide all other legal services necessary for comprehensive and efficient estate administration.
Can a Non-Hawaii Resident Serve as Personal Representative?
In most cases, yes. KPRESS Law can assist mainland clients, and in most cases clients in foreign countries who need a probate of their loved one's property, whether in Honolulu, Hawaii or elsewhere on Oahu, or in any of the counties of Hawaii, Kauai, or Maui. Every person dealing with the death of a loved one is different with varying experience, mind set, and current emotional state. KPRESS Law therefore aims to provide each client with the support and guidance each particular client needs to properly navigate through their probate case. KPRESS Law believes attorneys can add value to their service by close contact with each client and striving to alleviate the stress that the death of a loved one may cause.
How Much are Fees and Costs in a Hawaii Probate Case?
In Hawaii, probate lawyers differ in fees charged for handling a probate case based on each law offices' standard procedures. Some law offices and probate laws in other jurisdictions charge attorney fees based on the value of the assets and/or funds in the probate estate. KPRESS Law, however, will generally charge a flat fee, regardless of the value of the probate estate assets and funds available. The flat fee will be based on the complexity of the probate case, and the estimated time and effort it will take to complete your probate case, such as whether a formal or informal proceeding can be commenced, and the number of heirs or parties that need to be noticed per Hawaii statute. Costs, such as the initial probate court filing fee, any necessary title search and recording fees, and fee for publication if a notice to creditors and/or hearing is published, will be requested up front. Your fees and costs should be estimated during the free initial consultation, or soon thereafter upon collection of the necessary information regarding the decedent, the decedent's family, heirs and/or devisees, and the probate estate. Additional fees are uncommon, but may be charged in the event of unexpected complications in your case. The KPRESS Law office is run completely remotely in Honolulu HI, utilizing technology to its upmost to keep costs reasonable for Honolulu clients, as well as clients residing in any part of the world.
Why You Should Choose KPRESS Law as your Hawaii Probate Attorney:
Most law firms also offer services in multiple fields, or at least in practice areas related to probate, such as estate planning. KPRESS Law, however, is designed to focus solely on probate cases and ancillary proceedings in order to give such cases priority. The goal of KPRESS Law is to give both the clients and all parties involved a combined experience of efficient administration and prompt, comprehensive resolution of your legal issue, and proper support and guidance to personal representatives. In line with this goal, trust administration services are also available as necessary. The law office of KPRESS Law is located in Honolulu, HI, but can service all Hawaii islands. After many years of practice in all areas of estate planning, probate and trust administration, attorney Victoria Sakamaki recognized a need for focused and prioritized service in the probate area. KPRESS Law seeks to provide that exact extra support and understanding clients need during a time of loss and transition.