How to Choose a Probate Attorney

The probate process can be tough for everyone involved. In most cases, you are grieving a loved one, and dealing with legal documents and court dates can be especially difficult. It may seem overwhelming dealing with an estate, no matter how large or small it is. Debts must be settled, beneficiaries must be formally contacted, and assets must be properly valued, among many other things. 

Knowing which notices need to be sent where and by which dates can be extremely confusing, and managing an estate can get overwhelming quickly. Fortunately, probate attorneys have the knowledge and experience to help you navigate this difficult time and process. Read on for considerations for choosing the right probate attorney.

Do Your Research

The best place to start when looking for an experienced attorney, such as the probate attorneys at Blackford & Flohr, is with an internet search. Like you would for products and services, read as many reviews as you can find. If an attorney or law firm has a lot of negative reviews, they might not be the best choice. Looking through Google reviews and social media reviews can be helpful. 

Narrow it down to a few local, highly rated probate attorneys, and then check out their websites. A well-organized website is usually a good indicator of a properly managed law firm and a professional attorney. Check out the history of their firm and how much experience they have with probate and estate law. If an attorney has virtually no presence on the internet, this might be a red flag. 

You can also ask around to see if anyone you know has been through probate. It is highly likely that they worked with a probate attorney, so ask friends and family for recommendations.

Determine Your Budget

Working with an attorney comes at a cost. Like any professional, your probate lawyer will require a fee. Fee structures differ from practice to practice, so be sure to collect this information from the attorneys you are thinking about hiring. You should have a general budget in mind for how much you can comfortably spend on their services. This should also help you narrow your options down if you are considering multiple firms. 

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Schedule Consultations

Most attorneys offer consultations before signing contracts to work with clients. Meet with a few different lawyers to gauge compatibility. It is important to find someone who is not only experienced and qualified, but whose personality is welcoming and professional. You don’t want to get stuck working with someone who is unfriendly or who clashes with you, as this will likely be a long-term partnership. Probate court often lasts at least a year, and frequently lasts even longer. Make sure your probate attorney is a person you genuinely like and who makes you feel heard and respected. They should listen to your thoughts and address any and all concerns you have along the way. 

Ask Questions

Probate is confusing. There are tons of documents you’ve likely never heard of, schedules and deadlines to remember, forms to fill out, and records to obtain. It can become absolutely overwhelming fast. Most executors have lots of their own responsibilities as well, like raising kids and/or working a full-time job. Some estates are extremely complicated and time-consuming when it comes to notifying, valuing, and distributing everything. If something is confusing you, or you aren’t sure what to do in a certain situation, ask questions. This is especially important while you are still deciding which attorney to hire. 

Make a list of all of the questions you have while working through the early part of the process and write them down. Ask the attorneys you are considering these questions, and listen carefully to their answers. It should be relatively clear whether they know what they are talking about or not. Keep an open mind, but don’t be afraid to ask every question you think of, as they should be able to give you an answer.

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Communicate

During probate, communication with your lawyer is key. Dividing up an estate on behalf of a deceased person often causes stress and discord within families. People may be confused and angry about decisions the person has made in their will. Let the attorneys you are considering know what’s going on with the estate. Don’t be afraid to get into detail, despite how intimate and private the details may be.

As the executor, your main job is to honor the wishes of the decedent and ensure they are carried out. Your probate attorney is your teammate who will help you manage all obstacles and issues that might arise. If you do not feel like you can communicate with your probate lawyer, you may have chosen the wrong person. You need to be totally transparent and honest with them about what’s going on as related to the estate. 

You should also feel comfortable to confide in them if you are having an adverse reaction to what’s going on, either mentally or physically. Probate can be mentally taxing, so make sure you are communicating constantly with your probate attorney so they can help you to the best of their ability. 

Johnny Thompson

Johnny Thompson is a senior reporter for Generator Research in Los Angeles, reporting on technology, business, finances, and more. He previously worked as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal and got his start at newspapers in New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.

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