The Personal Representative....
Selecting a Probate Attorney...........
As the executor or personal representative of the estate in most cases, you are not required to use the decedent’s attorney or the attorney who prepared the last will and testament.
The Importance of A Local Attorney
In receiving legal advice and in delegating work to an attorney it is important that the attorney who probates the Will and settles the estate be based in the state in which the decedent was domiciled. State laws and procedures vary from state to state. The attorney who is working on your behalf, should be well versed in the specific legal methodologies pertaining to the state where the estate is to be settled.
There may also be an advantage in selecting an attorney who resides in the same county as the decedent. There may be circumstances in which the personal representative will require legal representation at a probate court hearing.
EstateSettlement.com Professional Directory
In today's mobile society, it is not uncommon for families to be broadly dispersed across the country and for a testator (decedent) to move many times in a lifetime. The attorney who drafted the Will may actually be based out of state and is likely not to be the best candidate to help administer the estate settlement activities. Also, attorney's don't stay in practice forever, they "slow down", move and retire (like the rest of us).
In an effort to provide a resource for those requiring the assistance of an estate administration attorney, we have created a directory listing of attorneys. Individuals can search for an attorney nationwide by; City, State or zip code. Also joining our directory will be other professionals; accountants, appraisers, trust companies and other valuable service providers. So be sure to comeback and visit us when you need local assistance.
Ideas to consider regarding selecting an Attorney
The executor’s or PR’s selection of the proper attorney should be based on the attorney’s skills, experience and quality of service provided to both to executor and to the estate itself. The attorney should be a convenient and accessible resource. You should consider the fee issue from the perspective of one professional fiduciary (yourself) engaging the services of another professional (the attorney).
Important benefits of establishing a productive client / attorney relationship:
- Teamwork, organization & coordination of efforts
- Peace of mind (less stress)
- Efficient use of time (for both parties)
- Fewer delays in completing the estate settlement process
- Lower expenses for the estate
Attorneys customarily charge an hourly rate for performing their professional services. It may be tempting for an executor to “shop the market” for the lowest hourly rate when hiring an attorney. This approach may, in fact, be more expensive monetarily, more time consuming and create needless stress for the executor.
Each state has adopted laws regarding estate fees. These statutes dictate the level and method of estate fees charged as well as, the duties that must be preformed by an attorney. Some states allow fees to be based on a percentage of the value of the estate assets (usually 2% to 3%). Other states, such as Texas, require fees to be billed on a hourly basis. Other states are less specific (like Florida) which merely require that fees be "fair and responsible".
Even the best attorney cannot drag a disorganized or disengaged executor or personal representative over the goal line. It will require a partnership. This web site was created to help prepare you to meet your part of the bargain. Please note, that our web site was created to enhance your relationship with a qualified attorney, not to replace them.
Questions to ask an Estate Settlement Attorney:
- What percent of your practice is associated with estate settlement work?
- How many estates have you settled in the last 12 months?
- Are they a member of the local Estate Planning Council?
- Has the attorney dealt with your "unique" issues before?
- Does the attorney apply technology in their practice? e-mail, electronic documents - PDF's).
- How do they suggest you communicate with them? (in person office visits, telephone, e-mail or fax.)
What are the options regarding fees?
- What is the Attorney's fee per hour rate? (is it different for; office visit, telephone, e-mail?)
- What is the fee for a “quick question” e-mail requiring a one paragraph response?
- Can you pay per task? (ala carte, "How much for help on these 5 items?")
- Pay per estate (flat rate or % or gross estate amount)
- Other fees and expenses (court filing fees, etc)
Only by respecting “the value” of the attorney's professional time, can the executor or PR create efficiency and true cost savings.
The executor should not be intimidated by this process nor should they have unrealistic demands or preconceived expectations. Each estate is different and takes on a "life of its own".
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Checklist: Preparing for the initial Attorney visit
ES Frequently asked questions
Glossary of probate terms
Steps in the Process
Estate Settlement Timeline
Should you Serve?
Estate Settlement Getting Organized
Pre-Attorney Visit Info.
Introductory Estate Outline
Estate Document Checklist
Original Will & Trust Documents
Decedent social security #
Cert. Copy of Death Certificate
Contracts of the decedent
Mortgages and loans documents
Copy of last years tax return
Terminology you don't understand
Payment of urgent bill?
Filing "letters" of Administration
Action plan for first 60 days
Inform the attorney about:
Special family issues & disputes
Unique forms of ownership
Any risks or liabilities of estate
Any issues that may interfere with you ability to serve as PR; health, distance, grief, time and your level of desire.
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