How do I Choose the Best Probate Attorney?

Mona D. Rigdon

A probate attorney handles matters related to the estate of a deceased person. This includes officially filing documents necessary to probate the will in a court of law, but encompasses many more duties as well. To determine how to choose the best probate attorney, it typically is necessary to understand the responsibilities of a probate attorney before and after the death of the client. This can help you to determine what type of probate services you need, and to do some research on probate attorneys in your area.

When someone passes away with a will, the act of settling the person’s obligations is called the “probate process”.
When someone passes away with a will, the act of settling the person’s obligations is called the “probate process”.

Typically, a probate attorney has many jobs, including advising about and drawing up wills and trusts, living wills, and assisting with estate planning. They can help remove some of the burden from loved ones by handling the business aspects of an accident or illness. Further, probate attorneys help the heirs of an estate by probating the will. This includes assistance in obtaining values of the property of the deceased, collection of insurance proceeds, settlement of outstanding bills and debts, determining any taxes due, settlement of disputes between executors and heirs, sales of any property, transferring property to heirs' names, and matters related to probate court or other legal proceedings.

A probate attorney handles matters related to the estate of a deceased person.
A probate attorney handles matters related to the estate of a deceased person.

Before contacting a probate lawyer, determine what type of probate services you need performed. Questions to ask yourself include: do I need estate planning services for documents or accounts such as trusts and wills, or do I need estate probate services because someone has died. If you need estate planning assistance, consider what assistance you will want. A probate attorney can also assist in obtaining legal guardianship of the person and the estate in cases where loved ones are no longer competent to care for themselves or make financial decisions.

If you are contacting a probate attorney because someone has died, it is important to know certain information. Be prepared to tell the probate lawyer where the person lived, died, if there are living children or other family, if a will exists, if its location is known, if it is likely to be contested, what type of assets make up the estate, and any other relevant information.

The first place many people begin looking for an attorney is in the phone book; this can be a fine resource, but it often doesn't offer much information. Before placing the first of many phone calls, check and see if any of the attorneys in which you are interested have Websites. If so, read the Website thoroughly, including FAQ's or articles that give a little more insight into the attorney's experience, philosophy, record or knowledge of the law. There are also Websites that provide lists of attorneys that practice by jurisdiction, with links to contact information and firm Websites. Some of these sites have reviews of attorneys posted by current and former clients.

Set up appointments with at least three top choices. On appointment day, make sure that you arrive a few minutes early and with all the information you need to relay to the attorney. Don't forget to bring a list of questions to ask, as well.

Consider asking how much experience your probate attorney has in the particular area in which you need assistance, if the attorney has any references, and if any grievances have been filed against him or her. Other important considerations include fees and payment methods, services not included in agreed-upon fees, and surprise expenses that could arise throughout the case. As to the probate matter itself, it is helpful to discuss up-front what issues the probate attorney might expect to arise, how he or she expects to deal with the issues, how long the process should take, how available the attorney will be, and what the attorney expects from you as a client.

Visit with more than one attorney to get an idea of the going rate in your area for these services and to ensure that you find an attorney with whom you are compatible. After visiting with the top candidates, consider the information they have given you, their personality, their fees, and any references you checked. Contact your top choice, and ask if he or she is still available to handle your case.

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Discussion Comments


@Terrificli -- That is usually a good way to go about things, but remember there are some attorneys out there who will put the most positive spin possible on anything. There are some that might pump up their accomplishments to the point of self delusion.

How to you deal with that? Always ask the attorney to tell about his or her experience, but verify everything independently by talking to friends, relatives, former clients and etc.

Please don't take that advice as lawyer bashing. I think one should always "trust but verify" when it comes to any professional.


@Melonlity -- True, but things get a bit more intense when wills are contested in probate court and family members start filing lawsuits against each other. There are a lot of probate lawyers out there, but very few of them actually deal with full on trials.

Those lawyers that are good at probate trials, however, are generally not ashamed to brag about their accomplishments because they are in a very exclusive field. If you want to know about a lawyer's success rate in probate trials, just ask them and they should tell.


This may sound morbid, but the best way to find a probate attorney if a loved one has died is often to ask the folks at the funeral home. People at funeral homes are equipped to advise families on all sorts of things and the chances are good they know who the probate lawyers are in an area and which ones represent their clients well.

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