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If you are the executor of an estate, a probate & estate administration attorney may help. But not every attorney will be right for you.
Do You Need a Probate & Estate Administration Attorney?
Probate & estate administration attorneys handle succession issues and can help you navigate court processes, payment of the deceased person’s debts, distribution of property according to the will or estate plan, and probate litigation. The Attorney will ensure that the estate is administered and probated according to probate law.
The legal process of transferring of property upon a person’s death is covered under “Probate Law.” Although probate customs and laws have changed over time, the purpose has remained much the same: people formalize their intentions as to the transfer of their property at the time of their death (typically in a will), their property is collected, certain debts are paid from the estate, and the property is distributed. As with any legal proceeding, there are technical aspects to probate administration.
Not Every Probate & Estate Administration Attorney will be Right for You
You must be sure that your philosophy of how to handle your probate & estate administration case matches that of your attorneys; both of you need to be on the same page. It is important that you ask questions and gather information which reveals the attorney’s philosophy for handling cases.
Selecting the right probate & estate administration attorney for your case will help you get through legal problems with the least amount of time, stress and money.
Research Your Probate & Estate Administration Attorney
Once you have selected a probate & estate administration attorney to meet with, the next thing you should do is look into that attorney’s experience and background. There are several ways to do this:
1. Search the Internet: Do a Google search on your attorney. Look for a legal blog, a website, news stories quoting or featuring the attorney, and other online information. Ideally, your attorney should devote almost all of his or her practice to the probate & estate administration matter you are willing to solve.
2. Contact the State Office of Court Administration: This office can tell you when the attorney was admitted to practice law, where he or she went to school and when he or she graduated, and whether the attorney is in good standing or has a record of disciplinary actions.
3. Ask Around: You should ask your circle of friends and professional advisers (accountants, attorneys, even some of their past or existing clients, etc) what they know about the attorney, or if they know someone who does know about the attorney.
Contacting the Probate & Estate Administration Attorney’s Office and Scheduling Your Initial Consultation
Now that you have selected a probate & estate administration attorney to interview and have done research on him or her, the next step is to contact the attorney’s office and schedule an appointment. You can learn a lot about how your attorney will behave if you retain him or her just by how he or she handles the simple but important task of scheduling a meeting with you as a potential new client.
Contact the probate & estate administration attorney’s office by telephone or e-mail and request an appointment. When you do this, it is important to tell the attorney’s office that you would like to discuss a specific type of probate & estate administration case. Take careful note of how quickly your message is answered. Your inquiry should always be answered promptly. If the attorney you contacted cannot manage to reply to a potential new client who is bringing him or her a new case and therefore new fees, that fact should tell you something about how he or she will behave once he or she already has your money.
Also, pay close attention to who you deal with in setting the appointment and how you are treated. Most good probate & estate administration attorneys rely on an assistant to schedule their appointments, and that person is very often responsible for much of the day to day communications and interactions with you once you hire your attorney. If you are not comfortable with the assistant who sets your appointment, it is a sign that the attorney may not be right for you and your probate & estate administration case.
Finally, you should ask about the cost of the initial consultation. Evaluate the response you get to these questions. Was the response clear and unequivocal?
Visiting the Probate & Estate Administration Attorney’s Office; What You See & Hear is What You Get
The experience of meeting your probate & estate administration attorney at his or her office is critical to determining whether this attorney is a good fit for you and your special case. An attorney’s office is, in effect, his or her professional home. And the rules that apply to a attorney’s professional home are the same as those that apply to your own home. So, you should pay careful attention to what you see and hear in your attorney’s office.
1. Visit during normal business hours. Set up your appointment during normal hours when the rest of the staff is present. Why? Because you want to meet the staff and see just how well they take care of clients.
2. Is the office neat and clean? This tells you something about how organized and focused the probate & estate administration attorney is. If the office is a mess and there are papers and files everywhere, imagine how that will affect the attorney’s ability to find your file and deal with your case at critical moments.
3. How does the attorney and his or her employees behave towards you and each other? It is important to observe how the probate & estate administration attorney’s staff treats you and each other during your visit. What you see when you are there is likely to be their best behavior. If you are not well taken care of during your visit or you observe inappropriate behavior during your visit, you can be certain this conduct will get worse once you are a client of the firm and the attorney has your money in hand.
Interviewing your Probate & Estate Administration Attorney; 8 Questions You should Ask
Preparing for your interview with your probate & estate administration attorney will help you make a better and more informed decision. You should organize discussion topics prior to meeting and bring with you any relevant paperwork. Your probate & estate administration attorney may need some of the documents you bring with you so be prepared and retain copies for your own records. If you can, you should write down dates and times of events, the names and addresses of any witnesses and any other important facts.
You should try to understand that probate & estate administration attorneys have professional and ethical commitments to all of their other clients, so you should expect your interview to last about 30-45 minutes on average.
At some point during the meeting, you should be able to ask questions about your case. You should try and write down as many of your questions as you can before the meeting so that you make sure you remember to ask them.
The 8 questions you should ask in the interview with your probate & estate administration attorney:
1. How much experience do you have with probate & estate administration cases like mine?
2. How much of your practice is devoted to the type of law I need help with?
3. What other types of probate & estate administration cases do you handle?
4. How do you communicate with clients? Do you prefer e-mail, text message or telephone?
5. How quickly do you answer calls and other communications from clients?
6. How much will your services cost me? What is your retainer fee?
7. Do you bill for normal business ‘overhead’ such as faxes, postage, and photocopies?
8. How long does an probate & estate administration case like mine usually take if there are no unusual developments?
Deciding which Probate & Estate Administration Attorney is Right for You
While you are interviewing a probate & estate administration attorney, you should listen carefully to the answers provided. You should also pay extremely close attention to your attorney’s personality, his or her manners and behavior, and how you feel during the interview.
How does the attorney make you feel? Comfortable? At ease? Are you treated as an equal and with respect? Or do you feel like the probate & estate administration attorney has a superior attitude and talks down to you? Has the attorney spent meaningful time with you and provided answers to your questions and concerns in a friendly and appropriate manner?
How you feel about your probate & estate administration attorney and how he or she behaves towards you will have an affect on your ability to trust and communicate effectively with that person over emotional and highly personal matters. Once the interview is over and you have time to reflect, assess the strengths and weaknesses of the candidate. Did the probate & estate administration attorney listen to you? Did the attorney provide enough information to make you feel comfortable that they know the law and procedure? Did you feel confident?
Once you have gone through all of these steps, you now have the information and experiences necessary to decide which probate & estate administration attorney best suits your needs.