Choosing the Right Probate Lawyer

You have been named executor in a will. Now what?

First, you are under no obligation to retain the original attorney who prepared the will. In fact, assuming you are the executor, that initial lawyer must now turn over the will to you. As you start your search, you will find a vast pool of probate practitioners. Some will be transactional, focused mainly on the probate process, while others will be more geared to litigation.

With such an abundance of choice, which are the most important factors?

Make sure it’s a good fit

Probate work requires keen attention to detail. However, many tasks involved need not be performed by a qualified lawyer. A responsible and well-organized paralegal is often well equipped to file forms and respond to court notices. Does the law firm you are to hire utilize experienced paralegals to minimize your overall expense? Organization — staying on top of who is responsible for what — is key. For instance, who will be ordering the death certificates? Who will be filing with the local probate court or obtaining any property appraisals? Yet each of the many moving parts is normally straightforward.

Experience pays off in prompt execution. The lengthy probate process may feel like molasses, so you do not want to lose extra time in unnecessary waiting. That is one reason you will benefit from a trust and estates specialist, preferably someone with some grasp of other related fields, like tax and real estate. Many attorneys do some probate work to supplement their main practice, rather than fully concentrating on probate.

Aside from references and reviews, good communication and the use of technology is a priority. Probate can be a highly personal matter, and it is reassuring to deal with somebody capable and compatible. If this is your first experience settling an estate, you will probably want to educate yourself about the process; you need a lawyer who will respect your efforts and never be dismissive of your questions.

Making the most of an interview

Most lawyers are open to a short, free initial consultation of about 30 minutes. Before you speak, prepare a list of relevant questions, such as:

  • What percentage of your practice is centered on probate?
  • How many probate cases have you handled?
  • How many situations like mine do you typically handle in any given year?
  • How often do those cases end up in litigation?
  • Can you deal with property in another state (if necessary)?
  • Do you charge reduced rates for paralegals?
  • How long do you expect this probate process to last?
  • How much might it cost altogether?
  • Will you prepare the final tax returns for the deceased and for the estate?
  • What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of my situation?
  • How often and how will we communicate?

About billing and fees

Fees depend on an attorney’s experience, their location (big cities mean bigger bucks), and the size and complexity of an estate. The law firm you hire should be able to give you an idea of the total fees, barring any unexpected issues. The probate process is important to you, as executor, and the beneficiaries.  The choice of the right law firm will, help move the process through smoothly.

Do you have questions?

Count on your experienced team at Ericson, Scalise & Mangan, PC to provide you with sound guidance for your Estate Planning, Elder Law, Real Estate, Probate, Trust & Estate Administration, and other legal needs. For assistance, contact us today at (860) 229-0369, or email us at

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