How To Pick The Best Probate Lawyer

Picking the best probate lawyer can be a difficult task for most people. Probate is not a process many people have a lot of experience with until a loved one passes away. Thus, most people don’t know how to pick the best probate lawyer for their situation. When a friend or family member passes away, there are a number of formalities that often accompany the grieving process. If you were a close friend or relative to the decedent, you may be called upon to make a number of important decisions regarding their estate.  More often than not, close family members are not familiar with the process of opening a probate estate and administering the decedent’s assets.  For this reason, you may want to turn to an experienced probate lawyer to help you navigate this meticulous legal procedure. Finding a great probate lawyer can make the process even easier especially in the difficult time following the passing of a loved one.

The responsibility of hiring a probate attorney may fall on you if (1) the decedent passed away without a will, (2) you were named as an executor or personal representative in a will, (3) the will failed to name an executor or personal representative, (4) the named executor or personal representative is dead or otherwise unavailable or, (5) the existing executor or personal representative is not sufficiently carrying out their duties or.

Factors To Consider When Picking The Best Probate Attorney

There are a number of factors to consider when selecting the best probate lawyer for your situation.  First, it is important to select a probate lawyer that is knowledgeable in District of Columbia probate law, has experience with the probate process, and is reasonably affordable.  Note first that you are not obligated to use the lawyer who drew up the decedent’s Will.  In choosing the best probate lawyer for you, you should also take into account your particular needs and situation.  Generally speaking, there are two types of probate lawyers: transactional probate lawyers and litigation probate lawyers.  

Transactional probate lawyers handle the administrative side of probate, i.e. helping you navigate your responsibilities and obligations as the personal representative of the decedent’s estate.  Probate litigators, on the other hand, handle the adversarial side of probate, i.e. they represent individuals who are either contesting or defending an issue.  Generally speaking, it is a good idea to hire a probate lawyer, or probate law firm, that is experienced in both the transactional and litigation aspects of probate.  This alleviates the potential burdens associated with seeking out a new attorney and having them get caught up on your case.

Regardless of whether your case is transactional or adversarial in nature, you’ll want to hire an a probate lawyer who is experienced not only in probate law, but other areas of law as well.  Probate lawyers who are experienced in other fields of law will be best suited to recognize whether an action being taken will effect, or be affected by, other areas of law.  For example, if the decedent had extensive real estate holding, it is best to hire a probate lawyer who is experienced in both probate and real estate matters.

Finding The Best Probate Lawyer For You

There are a number of effective ways to find the best probate lawyer for you.  One way to make sure you are selecting a knowledgeable and experienced probate lawyer is to get a personal recommendation from somebody you know and trust.  Consider asking friends and colleagues about whether they know any good probate attorneys, or whether they have had a positive experience with a probate attorney in the past.  If you are unable to get a personal recommendation, consider searching for an attorney on the internet.  Read through attorney profiles and reviews, and compile a preliminary list of potential attorneys who appear to be a good fit.  After you have assembled a list of potential lawyers, narrow your selections down to a handful of prospective candidates by looking at the following information:

  • Geographical and Biographical Information.  Look to see where the firm is located – is it close to your house or is it far away?  Look also to the attorney’s biographical information, such as their undergraduate institution, law school, and and any additional degrees they may have.  Take into account the number of years they have been practicing law, and their experience in the areas of probate, trusts and estates, and estate planning.
  • Online Search Results and Reviews.  Conduct a Google search of the lawyer and his or her law firm.  Look over their listed areas of practice, as well as any firm publications or blogs they have written.  Read over any website articles to see if the attorney or firm is knowledgeable in probate and probate-related matters.  Look too at any awards or recognitions the firm or attorney has received.  Conduct a general search of the attorney or firm name to read reviews of former clients on sites like Yelp and Google.
  • State Bar Association.  Search your state’s bar association website to find out if the attorney is in good standing.
  • Membership in Local, State or National Associations. Is the lawyer certified as a specialist in your state? Such certifications indicate that an attorney has significant experience focusing on these areas of the law. Not every state certifies specialists in probate matters. If not, look to see if the lawyer or firm specializes in trusts and estates or estate planning.
  • Payment. Ask for a copy of the retainer agreement and have the attorney explain it to you. You may end up paying a lot of money to the lawyer you hire, so make sure you understand how payment works before you commit to the relationship
  • Your Personal Needs.  Does the attorney you hire need to have special skills to address your unique circumstances? For example, will you need the lawyer to speak a language other than English, or will the lawyer need to be licensed to practice in more than one state?

Meeting with a Probate Lawyer

Once your list has been narrowed down to two or three probate lawyers, schedule a consultation to meet with them in person.  Use your common sense and gut-instincts to evaluate the attorneys on your list, and make sure that you feel comfortable with the attorney you ultimately chose.  Draw up a list of questions that you would like the attorney to answer, keeping in mind that the scope of their legal advice may be limited until they agree to take you on as a client.  Lawyers are busy people.  You should also anticipate that the lawyer you hire may delegate a lot of responsibility to the in-house staff, so consider, as an additional measure, how the lawyer’s staff treats you.

Questions to Ask Your Probate Lawyer

When you first sit down with a potential probate lawyer, make it clear that you are talking with several lawyers before making a final decision.  Feel free to ask questions about the attorney’s experience and practice.  Here are some questions you may want to ask:

  • How many probate cases do you typically handle a year?
  • What is your payment structure?
  • Is any of your work delegated to law-firm staff at a lower hourly rate?
  • Will you prepare final tax returns for the decedent and his or her estate?
  • Approximately how long will the probate process take?
  • As an executor, what parts of the probate process can I handle on my own, without the help of an attorney?
  • The decedent owned property in another state, can you handle the probate process there, or recommend somebody who can?
  • How much do you anticipate this process will cost?