Important things to look for in an estate lawyer

4 min read

An estate lawyer can help you make important decisions that will impact the financial health of your loved one’s estate as well as the entire probate process, but finding the perfect estate attorney can be a challenge.

It’s crucial to find someone who is experienced and competent, to offer wise counsel to the estate executor or administrator. And you’ll want a lawyer you and your family can trust—someone who understands what you are going through and knows exactly what needs to be done in your specific situation.

When you don’t know where to begin, there are several things to look for in an estate lawyer as you search for the perfect fit for you and your family.

Someone others can vouch for

For many people, it would be ideal to find a lawyer through a referral from a family member or friend. It’s easier to trust someone when you have a mutual connection.

If you know someone who has had a good experience with a lawyer, it might be worth reaching out even if they are in a different area of expertise, or if they are outside of your budget, to see if they might have a recommendation for you.

If nobody in your immediate circle has any legal connections, broaden your inquiry to your wider network—don’t underestimate the power of word of mouth. If this proves unfruitful, the next best thing is to take your search online. Make sure to cast your net wide, and carefully read reviews before contacting any lawyer or firm.

Someone knowledgeable in estate law

Most importantly, you need to find a lawyer with experience in estate legislation. Working with a family on their loved one’s estate is a complicated task, and your attorney needs to be well-versed in the pertinent legal and financial matters.

Not all lawyers specialize in estate legislation, so it’s important to find out their experience. Ask about how many similar cases they have handled, and whether they have any published papers or articles online related to estate handling.

You should also feel comfortable asking them directly how they would go about resolving the financial or legal issues relating to your loved one’s estate: what it will entail, the timeline they envision, and the outcome or solution they expect.

Write down a list of questions to ask the lawyer. They should be able to comfortably discuss all potential outcomes, resolutions, or obstacles relating to your case.

Someone who can work within your budget

Attorneys are expensive. Usually, your loved one’s estate will cover the cost of hiring the estate lawyer, but every dollar the estate spends on a lawyer is one less dollar that goes to the beneficiaries of the estate.

However, a good attorney is well worth this tradeoff, to avoid errors that could be expensive, and to speed up the probate process. But this trade-off is one you must calculate, based on what you can afford and how many thorny legal issues you foresee.

Before discussing your budget, arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible about your loved one’s estate to get the most accurate estimate.

Estate lawyers have different ways of determining their fee: some have an hourly rate, some use a flat rate, and some might charge a percentage of the value of the estate assets.

Of course, you should be up-front about your budget, and they should be up-front about their rate.

Some attorneys will charge clients for their time when sitting down for the initial interview or consultation, but many offer this for free. In addition, some lawyers ask for something called a “retainer” fee—this is a financial deposit to be made before the lawyer begins working on your case, and it may be used by the lawyer to pay any expenses that come up.

To avoid being caught off guard by an expense, make sure to clarify all aspects of the lawyer’s rate before you decide to meet with them. Keep in mind that any estimate the lawyer gives you is subject to change.

Someone you feel comfortable working with

When you have contacted a few lawyers who seem like they would fit your needs, the next step is to schedule the interview or consultation.

Pay attention to how comfortable you feel speaking to the lawyer, and how attentive they are to your needs.

A competent lawyer should be asking you questions about your family situation. This shows that they have experience and know what to ask. They should also be able to answer any questions you might have—no matter how minor—with empathy, ease, and professionalism.

You can usually get a sense fairly quickly of whether or not it will work out just by corresponding over the phone or email. But sitting down together in person (or over video chat, if necessary) will make the difference, and will make you feel more confident in your choice of lawyer for such an important job.

Remember to check in with yourself during the search for an estate lawyer. This is an incredibly stressful time, and it can be tough to make decisions under stress—so basic self-care like getting enough sleep, eating regular meals, and exercising can make a huge difference in your mental state and your ability to make good decisions.

And most importantly, reach out to friends and family when you need it. Plus, it’s always helpful to have a second opinion. With patience and persistence, you will surely find the right lawyer and be on your way to settling your loved one’s estate ●