Hire an attorney

Your estate lawyer, also sometimes known as a probate lawyer, is a critically important member of your team. In almost all cases, it is not a question of “if” you should hire an attorney; it is a question of “who” you should hire.

Factors to Consider

When choosing who to hire, you need to consider location, scale, and personality. Each should be a relevant consideration in your decision-making process.

Location

Many people who serve as executor or executrix live in a different state than the decedent (will writer). While determining which state’s law will govern the administration of the estate can be complex, you can generally assume the law of the state in which the decedent resided will be the law that will need to be followed. Therefore, it makes sense that you hire an attorney in that state and not your own state. You might even want to hire an attorney in the same or an adjacent city as the deceased’s.

Scale

The next thing to consider is scale. If you have a general idea of the size and monetary value of the estate, you will be able to determine what you might need from an attorney. If the estate is typical — including, for example, a house, investments, savings, and property of a moderate amount – you might not need to hire the attorney whose name is on the door at the largest firm, in the largest city in the state. Their fees might be higher and you probably don’t need the whole legal team they can provide. You will likely be well served by a lower level attorney within a big firm or a practitioner at a small firm. But if there are complex trusts, large-value assets held within incorporated entities, etc., you very well might need something more than a single practitioner or small estate firm can provide.

Personality

Finally, as estate executor you have to be able to get along with the estate attorney because you will have to work with him/her relatively often. This does not mean you expect to be best friends, but it should be someone you trust and respect. You can determine this by meeting with a few attorneys up for consideration. Sit down in their offices and talk with them to get a feel for their personality. Ask the attorneys if they have any overriding philosophies in working with executors and why they like doing this kind of work. Is this the type of person you would like to call with a question or would you dread interacting with this person? This process is difficult enough. Don’t make it more difficult by working with someone who is not a fit for you. Trust your impressions and hire an attorney with whom you believe you will be comfortable working.