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- On November 21, 2016
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- Bergen County Probate Court, Essex County Probate Court, estate administrator, Executor, Executrix, Morris county probate court, NJ estate administration, Passaic County Probate Attorney, Probate Attorney, surrogate court, Trust and Estate Attorney
As an estate executor, you have a lot of decisions to make. One of those is whether—and how—to choose a probate attorney.
Unless the estate you are handling is small, it is a good idea to consider working with an estate attorney. Situations that call for the advice of legal counsel include:
• The estate you are administering is large, contains significant assets, or complex assets of different types
• The estate is high asset, or has many creditors or debts
• If there are a large number of beneficiaries, or family members with interest in the estate, it is a good idea to work with an attorney
• When you are new to estate administration, the advice of a probate attorney helps ensure there are no administrative or probate mistakes that diminish the value of the estate
There are many good resources to help you understand the duties of an estate executor in New Jersey—one of them is an experienced lawyer.
Questions to ask when choosing an estate attorney
If you are considering working with an attorney to handle issues in Probate court or administration of the estate itself, educate yourself before you make any calls.
Review the Will or other estate planning documents to gain an idea of the job ahead. Write down preliminary questions that you have, including a question about the overall timeline of estate administration in your county in New Jersey.
This advance work familiarizes you with the questions you have, and provides answers to the questions your potential legal counsel will ask when you meet for an initial consultation.
Sources for estate attorney referrals include:
• Speak with friends or associates who have acted as an estate executor. Ask them about their experience with an attorney, the cost, and their satisfaction. If they were pleased with the representation they received—ask for a referral.
• Ask for a referral from the local Bar Association, or a real estate or other attorney. Our firm offers referrals to experienced, local estate administration and litigation attorneys as well as accountants. We would be happy to provide you with highly reputable referrals.
• Use the internet to search for estate attorneys in your area. Check out websites and review the experience and services of qualified lawyers in your area.
When you have a short list, make some calls and set up some interviews to discuss your case. Be sure to ask about a fee before you schedule your consultation. Many probate lawyers offer a free consultation so you can learn about their services. At your meeting, be sure to discuss the following points:
• Experience: Remember to ask about specific probate and estate administration experience. While you might have an attorney friend who practices in family law, or personal injury, look for experience with local county and state regulations and probate policies. As an executor, you can be held liable for the actions taken throughout your handling of the estate—even years from now. Be sure you have experienced legal guidance to avoid personal liability.
• References: Ask for references from clients whose cases have concluded. Follow up on the references.
• Fees: Understand your fee arrangement up front. Ask whether you are expected to pay hourly or flat rate fees. If the cost is reasonable, a flat rate can save you money and help you understand your costs up-front. Filing fees and other costs are added to that, and you may be expected to pay a retainer.
• Timing: Ask your attorney to give you an overview of the probate process so that you can understand, from start to finish, the scope of your task. Mention anything about the estate that you consider different or unusual.
• Contract: Be sure to read the service agreement carefully before you sign. Ask about any portion of the agreement that is confusing, especially payment of fees and costs.
As an estate executor, you have an important job ahead. An experienced probate attorney can ease the process—and help you avoid claims against you, and the estate, in the future.
Whether you are looking for an experienced local lawyer, accountant, or appraisals—we can help. Call us today.