When a family member or someone close to you passes away, you may need the help of probate attorneys to handle the deceased person’s estate. The responsibility of getting a lawyer falls to you if:
- You were named the personal representative or executor in the will
- The will does not have an executor
- The executor is gone or unavailable
- You have grounds to believe that the current probate attorney or executor is not doing right by the will
- What Kind of Probate Lawyer Do You Need?
In general, probate lawyers are classified into two: transactional probate attorneys and probate litigators. The former is someone who is seasoned in handling the administrative aspect of probate processes. The latter, on the other hand, represent individuals in probate lawsuits. Many lawyers do both, but most of them specialize in only one area.
Work with a transactional probate attorney if your relative or someone close to you has recently passed and you mainly want to begin the probate process immediately. Attorneys who are experienced in handling estate planning and trusts may be trusted with transactional probate concerns.
If you want to contest a will, if you are unsatisfied with how an executor or probate lawyer is administering a deceased person’s estate, or if you are expecting a legal dispute over the assets, then hire a probate litigator.
Ultimately, you’ll want legal representation from someone who handles probate matters regularly but also is knowledgeable enough in other fields to address any questionable actions by other interested parties lawfully. For instance, if the deceased had extensive real estate assets, then the probate lawyer should be familiar with real property laws.
Where to Find a Reliable Lawyer
One tried and tested way of locating an attorney is to get a recommendation from someone you know and trust well. Ask your family members, friends, or colleagues about any experience they may have had with local probate attorneys. Initiating these conversations may also give you useful information about understanding the probate process.
If you don’t know anyone who can give you a personal recommendation or if you may be uncomfortable asking, search online for lawyer directories. By entering your zip code, you can get a list of attorneys in your area.
After you’ve gathered a list of prospective attorneys you can work with, use the following attributes to narrow down your search further.
Biographical details. This attribute includes education and years practicing. Do they have expertise in probate, estate planning, and trusts?
References. If you can, ask former and current clients, who can give attest to the lawyer’s reliability and skills.
Online search results. Check the internet for more information about the lawyer, such as penned works, their website, social media standing, client testimonials, and other relevant information.
Local, state, and national bar association. Bar associations should give you more information about the lawyer’s credentials and credibility. A lawyer who is strongly connected to the legal community is someone you’d want representing you.
Certifications. Additional certifications can indicate that a lawyer has experiencing focusing on certain fields such as estate planning, trusts and estates, and probate.
Payment. You should ask for a thorough explanation of the retainer agreement. Hiring a lawyer can get costly, so it’s essential for you to understand how the payment will work even before you employ their services.
Your specific needs. If you need an attorney to have particular skills to handle your situation (speaking a language other than English, license to practice in a different state,etc.), then strongly consider your unique situation when hiring a lawyer.
Meeting and Consultation
After you or down to maybe three or four names on your list, it’s time to meet with them in person. Use your gut instincts and common sense when evaluating the attorneys on your list. At the end of the day, you’ll want to work with someone you feel comfortable with.
Some attorneys offer a free consultation, and others require fees upfront. Don’t be put off by the latter. It’s usually worth to spend some money in order to find the best attorney, regardless of paying for consultations with a handful of lawyers. The good attorneys are busy, so it will come as no surprise if they aren’t able to spend a long time with prospective clients. However, if an attorney takes too long to respond or meet with you, that may be a sign that they are too busy even to give your case the attention it needs.
You should also expect that a lot of the responsibility surrounding your case may be delegated to the law firm’s in-house staff. Thus, you should also evaluate how the staff treats you and other visitors; they are a reflection and an extension of how probate attorneys do their job.