How to Hire an Estate Attorney

Patrick O’Brien - September 2, 2015

If you’ve recently been named as an executor of an estate, you may not yet know you may need to have a team of professionals to help, and that you may need to hire an estate attorney. Because wills and estates vary in complexity, and assets within the estate can add another layer that must be understood and managed properly, it’s always a good idea to have an estate attorney at your side.

Do I need an estate attorney?

The first question to ask when selecting an estate attorney is “do I need an estate attorney?” Unless you are experienced in the final administration of an estate, the answer is usually “yes.” Even what may seem to be the simplest will, where one where a spouse gives everything to the surviving spouse, still has to be filed with the probate court. For most of us, we only see the inside of a courtroom once every decade or so when serving on jury duty. Having someone familiar with the ins and outs of how to probate a will can save you from wasting time, being frustrated and making costly mistakes.

What type of estate attorney do you need?

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to selecting an estate attorney. There are a few factors to consider before you hire a specific estate attorney. Here are things to you’ll want to consider:

  • Where is the attorney located?—When selecting an estate attorney, select one in the state, and even the region within that state, where the will writer lived. Laws vary from state to state, so you want to have an attorney who knows the laws in that state.
  • How complicated is the will?—While some people have simple wills, giving all their assets to a small number of beneficiaries, other wills contain complex distributions. Some wills may even reference trusts or other detailed arrangements. The more complicated the will and means of distribution for the assets, the more you need to consider getting an attorney who is an expert in the area. A general practitioner who knows her way around the probate court may be good for a relatively simple will and may save you money with lower hourly rates, but for a more complicated one, you may need to select an estate attorney or law firm with specific experience with more complex wills and more difficult distributions.
  • How complex are the assets?—One thing you might not think about as an executor who is selecting an estate attorney is the complexity of the assets in the estate. If assets are high in value, if assets are held within incorporated entities, or if complicated trusts are involved, you may need to select an estate attorney or law firm with experience in these areas. In some cases, a smaller firm may have these resources. In others, a larger firm with a variety of estate attorneys with varied specialties could be the right answer.

Hiring your estate attorney

Once you figure out the type of attorney you need, you then need to go about hiring an estate attorney. Here are a few tips to hire an estate attorney:

  • You don’t have to hire the first estate attorney you talk to. Personality matters. As an executor, you will have to work with the estate attorney, so make sure the estate attorney you hire is someone you trust and respect.
  • Ask about the fees. How will the estate attorney be compensated for her work? Will she charge you by the hour or is there a flat fee based on the will and size of the estate?
  • Ask about the process. Will you work with the person you are talking to or a team of people? If it will be a team, make sure you meet those people as well. Paralegals can play a significant role in this process – so meet them if they will be involved.

You may also want to let the attorney know you are using the tools on executor.org. Good lawyers appreciate informed clients. You can give your estate access to your account as you work through this process together, or independently use it as a way to make sure the process is moving as efficiently and smoothly as you would like. Our executor checklist is a great way to stay organized and provide updates to the estate attorney, which can also save you time and money.

Executor.org has great tools to help you select an estate attorney and to be a more informed client. The site can help you understand the executor role and get organized before talking to an estate attorney – and save time and money throughout the entire executor process.