Probate can be stressful and emotionally overwhelming. It’s important to have the guidance of an experienced attorney who can help you navigate the nuances of the laws surrounding probate and estate administration. However, you might be wondering what types of questions you should ask when beginning the process. The following are some of the most important questions you should ask a probate and estate administration attorney at your initial consultation.
One of the first things you should ask an attorney who you are considering working with is about their experience. Every attorney has an area of law they center their practice around. While some attorneys focus solely on trusts, probate, and estate law, others might only handle these types of cases on the side. Significantly, just because an attorney can prepare a will, doesn’t mean they have the knowledge or skill necessary to litigate in probate court. It’s critical to find an attorney who has extensive experience handling your specific type of matter.
It’s a good idea to get a clear understanding of what happens during the probate process so you know what to expect — and what your attorney will be working on. While there can be many variables based on the facts of the case, the judicial process is typically the same for every probate matter. You will want to discuss the length of time that probate can take, the paperwork necessary to file, and whether the simplified probate procedure might be available in your case.
Probate litigation is complex. Some probate attorneys only handle uncontested estate matters — others also litigate disputes related to estate administration in the courtroom. Even if you are expecting the estate administration process to run smoothly, a number of issues can arise related to will contests and other matters. It is important to have an attorney who is capable of providing representation for disputes to avoid delay and additional cost.
A key question to ask a probate and estate administration attorney is what information they will need you to provide. While they will handle all the court-related matters, you will likely have responsibilities as well — especially if you are the executor of the will. It’s integral to understand what the attorney will need your assistance with in the case to ensure the probate process runs smoothly.
It’s important to understand the method of communication your attorney prefers and how often you should expect to hear from them. Your attorney might only contact you when there has been movement in your case. Others might provide periodic check-ins. You should know what to expect from the outset of your matter.
There are several different ways attorneys might structure their legal fees. For instance, in estate administration matters, they may charge an hourly fee or a flat rate. It’s vital to understand the attorney’s fees, how they are charged, and what they cover. You should also get an idea of the fees associated with court filings and potential litigation. Although an attorney may not be able to give you the exact amount you will end up having to pay, it is important to be aware of what to expect.
A crucial part of the probate process is dealing with outstanding debts and financial obligations. By law, creditors are generally entitled to reimbursement from the proceeds of the estate. Your attorney should advise you as to the order in which creditor claims are paid and be able to devise a plan to pay them so that you can avoid incurring any liability.
Probate can be expensive — especially when disputes occur. You should discuss possible options with your attorney that may help to reduce costs. If the assets are held in trusts or beneficiary designations were put into place, you may be able to avoid probate entirely. In addition, you might be able to use the summary probate procedure depending upon the amount of the estate.
If you are going through the probate process for a loved one’s estate, it’s important to have a knowledgeable attorney by your side who can best advise you. The attorneys at White & Bright, LLP have extensive experience handling a broad scope of probate and estate administration matters in California. Call us at (760) 747-3200 or fill out our online contact us form to schedule a consultation to learn how we can help.