How to Choose the Right Probate Attorney
It can be overwhelming to lose a loved one. Unfortunately, one of the biggest tasks you now face is navigating the settling of the estate, which likely means navigating the probate process. From appointing the personal representative to distributing the estate’s assets to the beneficiaries, the process can be too much for many people to handle. Non-lawyers can easily make mistakes that cost you money and result in time-consuming delays. The most painless way to get through the estate settlement process is to work with an experienced probate lawyer.
What About the Lawyer Who Drafted the Will?
Many people assume that the lawyer who drafted the will should be the attorney to handle the probate process. While this does present certain advantages, you are not obligated to use the attorney who drafted the will. In fact, that lawyer may now be retired or no longer taking on cases. Furthermore, that lawyer may not be the correct choice if there are complex issues surrounding the estate – many lawyers who draft simple wills do not have the knowledge or experience to handle complex probate matters. Lastly, if the will was drafted in another state, you must work with a lawyer who is admitted to practice in the jurisdiction where the estate will go to probate (i.e. the jurisdiction where the deceased passed away).
In other words, you are free to work with any lawyer you choose, but choosing the right lawyer can be a difficult process.
Friends and family in the area can be a good source of information when choosing a probate lawyer. They can provide a sense of what you can expect in terms of responsiveness, thoroughness, and cost. Financial planners and other financial professionals often work closely with estate planning attorneys, and so can be another source of quality referrals.
Of course, many people simply turn to Google in order to find their lawyer. To find the right lawyer for your case, you need to use search terms that highlight the specific location where the estate will be admitted to probate. For example, you would want to google something along the lines of “Boca Raton probate lawyer” if the deceased’s estate will be admitted to probate in Palm Beach County. Otherwise, you will get results from all over the state, or even the country, with lawyers who will be unable to help you with your case.
From there, you want to carefully review each firm’s website and consider the following questions:
- Does the firm appear to have extensive knowledge in a wide variety of estate planning and probate matters?
- Does the firm handle will contests and probate litigation?
- Is the firm equipped to handle complex issues such as fiduciary obligations, guardianships, and out-of-state heirs?
You should also consider reviewing whatever resources the firm has available through its website such as its blog. Many questions you might have will be answered there and it may raise some issues you haven’t considered.
You should also take some time to review their “about us” page to get a sense of their culture and philosophy when it comes to serving their clients. Finally, be sure to review the bios of the attorneys at the firm in order to gauge their level of experience and standing in the estate planning legal community.
Set Up a Meeting
Once you have two or three potential attorneys that you think would be a good fit, the next step is to set up the initial consultation. Whether contacting them by phone or email, pay attention to how quickly they respond and how soon they can schedule your meeting. While probate matters may not be the most time-sensitive matters, the sooner you can begin the better. In addition, you want your probate attorney to respond promptly to any of your communications, and a slow response at the outset may be a bad sign. Many firms make the mistake of taking on more cases than they can handle, resulting in slow responses to their clients.
How to Prepare for Your Initial Consultation
In order to make the most of your initial consultation, you need to come to the meeting prepared. To the extent possible, you should try to bring the following documents to the initial consultation:
- A copy of the death certificate
- A copy of the last will and testament
- A copy of any life insurance policies
- A list of any valuable or unique personal property owned by the decedent such as cars, art, or jewelry
- The names and contact information for anyone named in the will
- A list of all bank accounts (both checking and savings), copies of bank statements
- Any information you may have concerning the decedent’s retirement accounts, including employer-provided retirement accounts and pensions
- A list of all real estate owned by the decedent in Florida and out of state
- Information concerning any business interests
- Information regarding any investment accounts or stocks and bonds
- Contact information for any stock brokers, financial advisors, or similar professionals that worked with the decedent
- The names and contact information of any creditors such as mortgage holders that you may be aware of
This is a great deal of information that can be quite difficult to gather. While it is helpful to have, do not delay meeting with an attorney because you do not yet have all or even most of it. An experienced probate attorney can help you gather the information you will need.
If You Need a Probate Lawyer, Contact Ellis Law Group Today
At Ellis Law Group, we understand how difficult it can be to move forward following the death of a loved one. That’s why we work with our clients every step of the way, answering their questions and guiding them through the probate process. From large, complex estates to more modest cases, we give every case personal attention to ensure that the terms of the will are honored and the beneficiaries get the inheritance they deserve. To learn more about us and discuss your needs, contact us today at 561-910-7500 to schedule a consultation.