7 questions to ask a probate attorney

When hiring a probate lawyer, you'll want to get answers to several key questions first. Here's what you'll want to know.

evident Editorial Team
December 2, 2021
Women meeting with probate lawyer

Probate law is the court process for the distribution of one’s estate after they have passed away. A probate attorney works with the executor, as well as the beneficiaries, throughout the process. 

It is important to note that probate can occur with or without a will, and the process unfolds slightly differently in either scenario. Likewise, a probate lawyer can assist in either circumstance with their role changing slightly depending on whether or not there is a will. 

If you are considering hiring a probate attorney, here are the key questions to ask to help you decide whether the lawyer you speak with is a good fit for you and what you can expect if you hire them. We've put together this checklist, and go into greater detail below:

Checklist of questions to ask a probate attorney

Key Takeaways

Are probate cases your primary focus?

Probate cases fall under the legal practice area of estate planning, but it is just one subset of that area of law. Probate lawyers focus on:

  • Estate distribution
  • Will execution
  • Tax planning

So while probate lawyers are a subset of estate planning lawyers, not all estate planning lawyers handle probate cases. And because probate cases are unlike any other type in estate planning, familiarity with these cases is crucial.

Have you handled cases similar to my own?

Experience is key in the probate field. While each case is specific to the individual, many of the same types of issues tend to come up from case to case. An experienced probate attorney puts you, and the estate being managed, in a more secure position so that you can avoid potential mistakes and get the job done as efficiently as possible.

How much will it cost to resolve my probate case?

The cost of a probate lawyer depends on several factors, including: 

  • The attorney’s usual fees
  • The matters the attorney must deal with
  • The length of the case (largely determined by the size and complexity of the estate)

Attorneys don’t always include the fees they charge on their website, so this is a crucial question to ask when speaking with them. 

It may be difficult for the attorney to give you a precise estimate from the outset, but they should be able to give you a sense of how much the process could cost and the types of factors that will impact the total fees. Transparency about compensation will help you build a better relationship with the attorney and, more importantly, to avoid being surprised down the line.

How long will it take to resolve my case?

The time it takes to resolve a case depends in large part on the size and the complexity of the estate the attorney must distribute. Smaller estates will take a few months, assuming that everything goes smoothly. Larger estates, meanwhile, can take upwards of a year or more to distribute correctly.

Similarly, the types of assets involved can impact the timeline. A simple estate involving cash and maybe a family home will be more straightforward than estates involving intellectual property rights or business assets. 

This question not only helps you figure out your own timeline, but it should also help you gauge the abilities and experience of the probate attorney you are speaking with. Again, each timeline is specific to the individual case, but an experienced probate attorney should be able to give you a sense of the amount of time it should take.

How will we communicate?

There is no right or wrong way to communicate with your attorney. It depends on what you both prefer. Email, text/SMS, phone calls, and video chats are all common means often used for communication with attorneys these days. 

It is important to consider what methods of communication you both prefer, and keep in mind that the answer to this question does not necessarily need to be a dealbreaker. But as with any attorney you hire, they are handling quite personal affairs on your behalf, so it is important to understand upfront how you will communicate with your attorney.

How often can I expect to hear from you?

Again, there is no “right” answer to this question, either. Maybe you only want to hear from your probate lawyer when there are major updates, or maybe you would prefer to have periodic check-ins. Whatever your preferences may be, and whatever the lawyer’s standard practice, the key is to understand what you should expect from the outset.

What do you need from me?

The probate attorney should handle all the court-related tasks when taking on full representation of the probate case. But you may have responsibilities as well, particularly if you are the executor of the will. For instance, the executor must collect and organize the assets as well as pay bills related to the case. 

After consulting with your probate attorney, you could divide up some of the paperwork if you choose to. Either way, the important thing to understand is that your attorney may need your assistance and participation in the case to make sure the probate process moves as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

The Bottom Line

Probate cases can be challenging to navigate, so it is crucial that you find the right attorney for you. You are trusting this person to help distribute many assets that hold a lot of value, both emotionally and financially, so asking these questions can help you to determine whether the probate attorney you speak with is the best option for you and your circumstances.

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