Hiring a probate lawyer can get pretty expensive, but it often saves a lot of money and grief in the long run. With a seasoned estate lawyer, you’ll have someone who can advise you on the appropriate steps to take. Therefore, it’s crucial to choose the right lawyer, prepare well for your initial meeting and maximise the use of your lawyer’s time.
To efficiently minimise the time your probate lawyer will have to spend on your case, simply reducing your email exchange can help you save a few hundred dollars or more.
So, to help you save money on legal fees and have a legal professional who understands your situation, below are a few tips on selecting a good estate lawyer and what to prepare before contacting a probate lawyer.
Table of Contents
1. Finding the Right Estate Lawyer
Why is it important to find the right estate lawyer?
Of course, there is always the cost to consider; more importantly, though, when a family member dies and leaves behind properties, monies and other valuables, you need a lawyer who can provide their unbiased and objective opinion on the procedure that needs to be followed. A probate lawyer can also do the following:
- Advise the Executor(s) on their obligations under a Will and in accordance with the law.
- Provide counsel on the next steps to take when there is no Will or Executor.
- Give advice where there seem to be ambiguous statements in a Will.
- Help defend the estate against any claims.
So, in order to find a legal professional that’s a good fit for the circumstances, below are some tips you may want to consider:
- Ask friends and colleagues for referrals to reputable estate lawyers.
- Check estate attorney listings online and in a phonebook.
- Look for lawyers who specialize in estates, probate and succession law and if they are certified by STEP or the relevant Law Institute in a state or territory and recognized by bodies such as Doyles.
- Do an area search for probate lawyers and check their company websites.
- Research online directories for estate lawyers and go over their profiles.
- Browse the internet for attorney reviews.
- Create a shortlist of lawyers who appear to be a good match for you and your requirements.
- Get in touch with the office of each lawyer on your list and try to get more information.
When you’re at the last stage of finding a probate lawyer, make sure you cover the following during the phone call:
1.1 Background and Expertise
Has the lawyer handled similar cases to yours? Estate and trust lawyers typically specialise in estate planning, probate, estate and trust administration, special needs issues, elderly care or other specific legal issues. Remember, it’s important to find an attorney who is especially well-versed with the area of expertise you need. So, during the phone call, be straightforward and ask how many comparable cases the lawyer has handled or what percentage of their practice involves circumstances like yours.
1.2 Cost and Rates
Although you might not obtain complete information on the cost of hiring the lawyer you are eyeing, it’s crucial to get an indication of how much you could be spending. Ask about their hourly rates for cases with almost identical conditions. Also, check how the lawyer will charge you. It could be that you can negotiate a fixed fee based on certain factors, such as:
- For specific work where the scope is clear
- Based on their hourly rate where the effort is difficult to estimate upfront
- The state’s fee scales
- No-win no-fee arrangements (mostly for litigious matters)
- If an upfront retainer needs to be paid
Some law firms even allow you to pay for their service once you are in possession of the estate funds to avoid paying out of pocket in the meantime.
Check how much a consultation typically costs. You can then compare the information you receive with those quoted by the office of the other probate lawyers on your shortlist. You can also use the figures they provide to compare them with national or local rates, if you have this information.
1.3 Approach and Tone
If you decide to work with a particular lawyer, you need to keep in mind that there’s a distinct possibility that you’ll be working with them for days or weeks, depending on the situation. Therefore, while you’re on the phone, try to get a feel about the way the support staff answers the phone or responds to your enquiry. Do they sound friendly but professional, knowledgeable and efficient? Are they curt or courteous and sensitive to your needs?
Once you are done moving through your shortlist and making phone calls, go over your notes and narrow down your choices to two or three.
Depending on the size and complexity of the estate, and how much work you are looking to get legal support for, you should schedule a consultation with your final prospects.
Now, you may feel that spending money on consultations with different lawyers would be a waste. However, getting to meet each estate lawyer in person can help you make an informed final choice.
In fact, the total cost of the consultations may just comprise a small fraction of the fees you may need to pay later (in case there are complications) and may ultimately save you money, time and sleepless nights.
Therefore, you need to do all that you can to ensure you end up working with the right probate lawyer for you.
2. Tips for the Initial Consultation
Depending on the lawyer, consultations can take place over the phone, online or in person. We recommend meeting in person, as it lets you get a better feel for the attorney you are considering.
And while most lawyers charge for a consultation, there are also others who don’t. There are lawyers who prefer to speak in general terms about your type of case, whereas there are those who don’t mind diving deep into the details of your situation.
At this stage, you have to come prepared to talk about your case. Although the lawyer may not be too keen on knowing that many details about your case before signing a fee agreement, you still need to be prepared with significant information.
You may be asked to fill out a form before your consultation, so make sure you take the time to answer each question carefully. Although you don’t necessarily have to write down everything about your case, ensure you write down the key points. The information you provide will also be used as a reference for a conflict of interest check. This will help ensure the firm you are considering is not involved with or representing another party who has interests in the estate or case.
During the consultation, try to cover the following questions:
- What documents or information does the probate lawyer want to see to assess the situation?
- What complications or problems do they foresee regarding your case?
- What process or approach would the lawyer take in handling your situation?
- How long would it take to settle or bring the matter to a conclusion?
- How would you be charged for their services?
- Would the lawyer be handling the case personally, or would someone else in the firm handle it or be involved?
- What method of communication do they recommend concerning case updates? How frequently will they be sharing updates with you?
Once all consultations are done and you’ve made your decision, do a final check to see if the firm is legitimate, registered and not subject to any disciplinary action.
- For lawyers in Victoria: Register of Lawyers Search (VLSBC).
- For lawyers in New South Wales: Find a Lawyer – The Law Society of NSW.
- For lawyers in Queensland: OnlineReferral (qls.com.au).
- For lawyers in Perth and the rest of Western Australia: A guide to all lawyers in Perth, Western Australia – Australian Lawyers Directory and Find a Lawyer – Law Society of Western Australia.
Alternatively, you may also search the Australian Lawyers Directory – All Lawyers, Solicitors firms, Barristers and Bar Chambers in Australia, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane.
When you are done verifying the qualifications of the lawyer you’ve chosen, you can proceed to the next step, which is setting up your first meeting as lawyer and client.
3. Preparations Before Meeting with Your Lawyer
To maximise the time you spend with your attorney and save money in the process, learn as much as you can about your legal concern, and jot down notes and anything you don’t understand before the meeting. Check on what a probate lawyer typically does and what aspects of the probate proceedings you can assist with.
You may have concerns and need legal support with:
- applying for Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration;
- understanding the administration process and legal requirements;
- confirming and you have done everything you should;
- protecting the estate and yourself against possible risks and claims;
- responding to legal correspondence you received;
- understanding your legal options;
- defending the estate against claims and law-suits; or
- initiating a law-suit against one or multiple parties.
In case you are a beneficiary, you can check what issues may affect you, as well as your duties or role.
The more you learn about your legal concern, the more direct and precise your questions can be during the consultation. You’ll also learn to make the most out of the time you spend with your attorney as they work on your case.
4. What to Expect During the First Meeting
When you finalise your decision to hire an attorney, you’ll be asked to sign a fee agreement and officially begin your relationship as lawyer and client.
The first meeting with an attorney usually entails plenty of information exchange.
You will need to explain to or share with them the details of your legal issue and respond to their questions. They will also spend a considerable amount of time discussing your case and strategising.
Thinking of this could cause you some trepidation, so prepare notes for the meeting. If it might help, try practising the conversation with a friend.
Aside from wanting to get a general understanding of your legal requirements, your lawyer may ask you about who else is involved with the case and how they relate to you.
For example, if you get a lawyer to discuss probate matters on behalf of your parents or siblings, your lawyer will want to know why you are seeking help on behalf of others and why the concerned parties are unable to seek legal assistance in person.
For this first meeting, make sure to prepare the following information on the details of the situation, such as:
- Who passed away
- Your relationship to the deceased
- When they passed
- Which state the deceased resided in
- The deceased person’s known assets and liabilities
- A copy of the family tree
- Whether there is a Will or if they died intestate
- If there are named Executors
- Any concerns or issues you foresee
- Any specific questions you may have
Also, in case you have any pertinent documents or paperwork they asked about during the initial consultation, you may want to bring those along, too.
These may include documents that indicate your authority in the matter, such as:
- Will or trust documents
- Deeds to real property
- Life insurance policies
- Documents related to public benefits
- Death certificate (if already available)
- Assets & Liabilities Register
- Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration (if already available)
Even when you have not been required to provide such documentation, bring copies of all relevant documents to your meeting. Keep the documents organised in an envelope or folder before you meet with your lawyer.
Preparation Is Key
No matter what situation you find yourself in and what your specific needs for legal support are, it pays to partner with the right probate lawyer and following the above tips.
Once you’ve found yourself a good lawyer and engaged them, maximise your time with them and minimise your legal expenses by preparing well for your first meeting and every one thereafter.
For further information and help about engaging a probate lawyer and being prepared, book a phone appointment with simplyEstate to discuss your approach.