In most cases, going through the probate process is necessary when a loved one passes away. In fact, Maryland state law requires most estates to go through the probate process to ensure stipulations of the last will and testament are honored and the estate is handled appropriately. It’s not required to have a probate attorney during this time, but it’s highly recommended since the probate process can be complex, confusing, and time consuming. And, while you’re going through this difficult time, an attorney can help you navigate through the estate and probate process and assist with the different efforts required. Here are five considerations for choosing the right probate attorney.
It’s okay to meet with several attorneys before choosing one to make sure you’re comfortable and make the best decision for you. When you sit down with a probate attorney, ask questions like:
- How many probate cases have you handled?
- How long will it take to go through probate?
- What will you do to assist me through the probate process? (Example: assist with preparing initial pleadings, marshaling and valuing assets, preparing required inventory, preparing tax returns for the deceased, etc.)
- About how much do you think the process will cost?
- If I handle some of the probate work myself, are you willing to work with me to keep fees down?
- How do you charge?
You should feel comfortable knowing the attorney has the experience required for a smooth probate process and that hiring them for their services is something you can afford.
Some traits you’ll want your probate attorney to have include:
- Strong, clear communication
- Attention to detail
- Knowledge of the legal and probate process
- Excellent listening skills
The probate attorney should listen carefully to your questions and concerns, be respectful of your situation, and speak to you and explain things in words you understand. The attorney should communicate clearly and be willing to work with you to help you learn about and understand probate.
Above all, you should feel comfortable – not only trusting that the attorney will represent you and your deceased loved one appropriately and fairly, but also comfortable to ask questions and state concerns.
Research Their Reputation
A great probate attorney should have a great reputation. First, research the attorney online and look for ratings or reviews left by previous clients. Read about how those clients felt they were treated, and how they review the attorney’s knowledge and skills. The attorney should have strong knowledge of the probate and estate process, but also the ability to help their clients through the proceedings.
Also read about his or her law firm. Read any articles, FAQs, or other information provided on their website or on other sites.
Understand the Cost
Ask for a copy of the retainer agreement up front, and have the attorney explain it to you. Be sure to understand what you’re paying for, how much it will cost, and how the payment works. For example, understand if they pay by the hour, have a flat fee, or if they collect a percentage of the value of the estate as their fee (which is not allowed in Maryland). If the attorney charges hourly, ask for an estimate of the total hours or costs you’ll be charged.
Also ask about other costs you may need to pay including court fees, postage, and others. Understand how you’ll be billed, when the payment will be due, and how detailed the bill will be. Get a fee agreement in writing to protect yourself down the road.