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  • Ryan J. Smollar

12 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Probate Attorney

In Florida, probate is sometimes a necessity. As a result, most people will need to consult with a probate lawyer at some point. Unfortunately, this can be difficult. After all, most people are not familiar with probate, making it vital to read more about the process and understand the terminology. The more prepared you are, though, the easier it is to find the right probate lawyer.

Before you walk into an attorney’s office to find the right individual to meet your needs, creating a list of estate lawyer questions may help. The answers will ensure you select a probate attorney who will work well with you and your family. What question should you ask a probate lawyer? Try these:

  1. What Does Probate Involve? Let the lawyer explain to you the probate process from start to finish and why it happens. Most people have very little idea what happens after a will is filed in a Florida Probate court. This will help clear up any confusion that you may have about the probate process.

  2. Is Probate Necessary? In Florida, probate is necessary in most cases, whether there is a will or not. Ask the lawyer when probate is not required in Florida and how you can protect your estate while alive and what you can do to make the probate process easier after your death.

  3. How Long Will Probate Take? There is a great deal of confusion about the probate process. Some people feel that it may take years, but the reality is that it may take anywhere from 6-12 months. Only the very complex cases last 2-3 years. Your attorney should be able to help you understand what the timeline might be in your situation.

  4. Are You a Licensed Attorney? How Long Have You Practiced Probate Law? When you are dealing with probate, you want to seek a licensed lawyer who has years of experience in this field. Probate can be very complicated, time-consuming and there are many legal rules to follow. You do not want a general lawyer to represent you but someone who does this every day. A general lawyer may not fully understand the probate process and not be able to represent you with complete confidence in real estate matters.

  5. Can You Tell Me About Your Previous Experience? You should also ask if the lawyer has experience. It is preferable to choose someone with experience in probate than someone who has just started their law practice.

  6. Do You Have Courtroom Experience? Even though it may seem that most lawyers have courtroom experience, the reality is that only a few do. Since probate dealings are carried out in court, you preferably want an attorney who has courtroom experience. The lawyer must be familiar with the rules and protocols of the court- this can make the probate process a lot smoother.

  7. Have You Dealt With A Similar Probate Case Before? It is very important to ask if the lawyer has previously dealt with a similar probate case before. Even though every probate case is different, with the right experience, they may be able to provide you details of the outcome and nuances encountered.

  8. Do I Have to Go to Court? In most cases, the lawyer will represent you in court, and it is very unlikely that you will have to appear in court if there are no significant issues. However, if the validity of the will is questioned, if there are creditors or someone is contesting the will, then you may have to appear in court. Your attorney will help you understand whether that’s a reality in your case.

  9. How Will the Lien Holders Be Handled? It is essential to ask the lawyer how the creditors and lien holders are handled. Under Florida law, all creditors are paid FIRST from the proceeds of the estate. If there is not enough cash, sometimes the executor will sell the property to pay off the creditors.

  10. How Will We Stay in Touch? This is a very important question to ask. Sometimes lawyers are busy and simply have no time to update the client on the process. However, many lawyers also have paralegals and other ancillary staff whom you can contact to find out the status of probate. You ideally want a lawyer whom you can reach via phone or email.

  11. What Are Your Fees? This is one of the most important questions to ask because different lawyers have different fees for probate. While you don’t want to shop by price alone, you also want someone who has reasonable and no hidden fees. The question you need to ask regarding fees is how their rates are calculated. Some attorneys have an hourly fee, while others have a flat rate. Still, others have a contingency fee. If the lawyer goes by the hour, you need to ask roughly how many hours of work probate requires. If the lawyer uses a contingency fee system, find out their percentage from your remaining assets. You also need to ask what the court fees will be and any other administrative fees. The last thing you want is to find out that several hidden fees amount to a significant amount of money. The most important thing is to find out ahead of time what the fees will be so that there are no surprises at the end.

  12. What Documents Will Be Required? For probate, documents needed include the last Will, a living trust if one was completed, copies of the decedent’s assets, bank accounts, properties, outstanding bills, investments, life insurance policy, and the death certificate. Finally, a list with the names and addresses of all beneficiaries is needed.

By asking the right questions, you will learn a lot about probate. Becoming more informed will allow you to make an informed decision about which probate attorney to select.

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