When it comes to dealing with the loss of a loved one, one of the last things that any family member wants to do is call a probate or estate attorney. This is understandable given that the family is grieving with the loss. Finding a lawyer should be not be a complicated matter. Finding the right lawyer to handle an estate, whether it requires planning or for the will to be probated, however, requires due diligence.
Arranging for an appointment with probate or estate lawyer early on is always a very good idea even well before the loss of a family member occurs. The reason being is that you can plan effectively and have important questions answered that will help prepare you and others when the worst happens. For example, retaining the right estate lawyer can simplify the process and save the estate a significant amount of money in taxes and fees. Of course, it helps to know the type of questions that you should ask before meeting with the attorney. What follows are several of the most popular questions that will help you get a better idea of what you need to do in order to hire the proper probate or estate lawyer.
What Areas Of The Law Do You Practice?
You may have noticed that while most attorneys have a considerably broad range of experience, they tend to specialize in a particular area. When searching for a lawyer on the Internet or by a referral, make sure to visit the law firm’s website to confirm their areas of specialization. If the firm advertises itself as a “general practice law firm” or a “full service firm,” chances are that they only know the basic concepts when it comes to estate law. If you need a simple Will drafted, then that lawyer should suffice. If your estate matter has a hint of complexity, opt for a professional. Bear this saying in mind when hiring a lawyer for any type of matter “a Jack of all trades, is a master of no trade.”
During your in-person meeting, you should confirm their specialty by asking whether they practice other areas outside of estate or probate as part of their services. Generally speaking, attorneys who do not focus their services on estates or probate are less likely to have the specific knowledge and experience needed to excel in this particular part of the law. Estate law should be their primary focus, with ancillary services in areas such as real estate and guardianships.
Do You Have Experience With Similar Cases In The Past?
Certainly this is one of the most important questions that you can ask because it delves into the experience that they have had with this type of matter. Again, if you are drafting a simple will this question may be unnecessary. But if you are planning to hire the Jack-of-all-trades, this question should very well be asked, even in a simple will preparation matter. I’ve recently had a matter in which I was retained to probate a will. This document was so poorly drafted that the Judge and the clerks in that department could not figure out the true intent of the deceased. Because of this lawyer’s unfortunate drafting skills, the will had to be struck down, as if it was never drafted, and the estate had to pass by the intestacy rules in the state.
The more experience the lawyer has in such matters, the better the outcome should be in your case. While there is no guarantee that their past experience will generate positive results, at a minimum, they should understand the nuances and intricacies of probate and estate law.
Can You Estimate All Associated Fees?
While most NYC estate lawyers charge a flat or hourly fee for estate planning, contested and probate matters may be charged on a percentage basis of the estate. Depending on the type of fee, this will shape your follow-up question. For example, if the particular lawyer charges on a hourly basis, you can inquire on the estimated amount of hours such matters take. If the fee is flat, ask what type of complications may cause the fee to increase. Also, remember to inquire about court filing fees and any other fees or expenses that may be incurred.
Do you Regularly Appear in the Court Where This Case will be Assigned?
It seems that every county and judge have their own particular methods and rules that are slightly different than each other. The entire process will go far more smoothly if the attorney you choose has practiced regularly in that court and is familiar with the judge’s rules and procedures. This will tend to shorten the length of the matter and increase the chances of the case being successful.
Can You Estimate the Time Frame of the Process?
Time frames vary depending on the type of matter. A simple will should not take more than two weeks to be finalized, while a probate matter will take at least seven month to settle. Depending on the issues involved, some court proceedings battle it out for several years before anything is resolved. An attorney experienced in similar type of matters can provide you with an accurate estimated time.
What Is The Best Way To Reach You?
When deciding which estate lawyer to hire, it is important to take their accessibility into account. When you first made contact, were you able to speak to that lawyer right away? How long did it take for them to call you back? How soon were they available to see you? You want a lawyer who makes you a priority, even though they have twenty other new clients that month. You need to know that they can be easily reached in case you have additional questions, need to make changes, or the worst occurs. You’ll want to get updates on the status of the case as well, so you will need to know who to speak to and the likelihood of getting a hold of the lawyer when needed.
Nowadays, people are very busy. Lawyers are especially busy because they usually take on more than they handle at one time. Ask the lawyer you decide to retain on the best ways to reach him or her, whether it be by phone, email, or the website contact form. A law office that truly cares about their clients will be as communicative as possible and have a system in which they can respond quickly to your questions. All in all, it helps if you know what type of questions to ask of an attorney that will handle your probate or estate case.