If a loved one or acquaintance recently passed away and the deceased’s last Will names you as the Estate’s Executor, you may be unsure where to start. Or, maybe the deceased didn’t leave a Will and you’re wondering whether you’re entitled by law to act as the Estate’s Executor.
In either case, it’s best that you meet with a probate lawyer to discuss your options. While probate isn’t necessary for every circumstance, it’s often required. A skilled probate lawyer can help you determine whether probate is necessary for your circumstances, and if it is required, they can guide you through the application process and advise you regarding Estate distribution.
Where do I Start?
While it’s important that you contact a probate lawyer if you’re an Estate Executor, it can be difficult to know which lawyer to choose. There may be several probate lawyers in your town, and if you live in a major centre like Calgary, there are likely dozens of probate lawyers to choose from.
Many people hire a probate lawyer based on a recommendation from a friend or family member, however, clients also commonly find their probate lawyer via Google search. Regardless of who you choose to hire as your probate lawyer, there are several important factors to consider when making your decision.
5 Things to Consider When Choosing a Probate Lawyer
If you’re in the process of choosing a probate lawyer, it’s worth considering the following factors when deciding which law firm or lawyer to proceed with:
1. Legal Knowledge
Lawyers provide value to clients in mainly two ways: firstly, they offer specialized legal knowledge that isn’t readily accessible to the general public, and, secondly, they provide legal advice based on their specialized knowledge and experience. As such, it’s essential that you choose a probate lawyer who has a strong working knowledge of Wills & Estates law and can provide you with legal advice that you can trust.
Of course, all Alberta lawyers must have a law degree from an accredited institution and meet the Alberta Bar admission requirements. For that reason, most Alberta probate lawyers have comparable academic training.
While the academic credentials of most probate lawyers are similar, it’s important to choose a probate lawyer who regularly handles probate and other Estate law matters. Many lawyers have several practice areas and only ‘dabble’ in probate matters. You may prefer to choose a probate lawyer who focuses specifically on Wills & Estates law.
While first impressions can be deceiving, if you’re considering a particular probate lawyer, it’s worth perusing their website and having an initial conversation with them. Do they seem knowledgeable? Do they publish quality content on their website that indicates a strong understanding of the law in the area? Truth be told, there are many great probate lawyers who don’t even have websites, or who may be reluctant to share their extensive knowledge with a first-time cold caller, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to do a little legwork when you’re looking for a knowledgeable probate lawyer.
Oftentimes, we purchase products or acquire services on the basis of cost. It’s natural, especially during tough economic times, to simply ‘go with the cheapest option’. When you’re choosing a probate lawyer, the cheapest isn’t always best, but it’s equally important that you don’t overpay for legal services.
If you’re searching for a probate lawyer in Calgary, you’ll likely find that most lawyers’ fees are within a comparable range. However, a select few lawyers will charge significantly more, or, in limited cases, significantly less than others.
If you’ve obtained several quotes on probate legal fees, and a particular quote is either far higher or far lower than most, ask yourself why that’s the case. Some lawyers may quote a lower up-front cost, but that cost may only include the very basic aspects of completing and filing the probate application.
It’s also worth considering how each probate lawyer bills their clients. Some probate lawyers charge hourly, while others charge a flat fee based on the Estate value. There are pros and cons to each fee structure. If you’ve found a lawyer who charges hourly, ask how many hours they estimate that your Estate matter will involve, and what the lawyer’s hourly rates are. You may find that hourly rates differ substantially between lawyers.
West Legal bills most of our probate matters on a flat-rate fee basis. While there’s no ‘right approach’, we believe that flat-rate billing gives our clients peace-of-mind. They know what the cost of probate is from the outset, and are able to plan accordingly without having to worry about hidden legal fees. The key takeaway is that you should hire a probate lawyer who charges reasonable fees.
It’s important to ask your potential probate lawyer what their timeline is for completing your probate application. As with any occupation, some probate lawyers are busier than others, and some lawyers manage their time better than others. Once a probate application is submitted, there’s not much a probate lawyer can do to expedite the court wait times, however, a probate lawyer can speed up the process by filing your application promptly.
At West Legal, our probate lawyers aim to draft client probate applications within 2 weeks of receiving all required information and documentation from the Estate Executor.
While Google reviews, Yelp reviews, social media, and word-of-mouth aren’t always accurate, oftentimes ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire’. If a lawyer has one bad Google review among several positive reviews, it doesn’t raise as many red flags as a law firm whose reviews are mostly below average.
When considering a law firm’s reputation, look at the ‘big-picture’. Are Google reviews mostly positive? What have you heard about them from neighbours, friends, or family members? Are there any red flags? Do they have a detailed website? Are they easy to get in touch with? As with any service provider or merchant, it’s worth picking a trustworthy probate lawyer with a solid reputation.
5. Fit/Practice Style
Every lawyer has their own practice style, and it’s impossible to determine from a telephone call or even a consultation what their ‘practice style’ is. However, when you meet with a probate lawyer for an initial consultation or discuss your matter with them via telephone, consider whether they seem like a good fit for you. As the Estate’s Executor, you’ll work closely with your probate lawyer throughout a substantial part of the Estate administration process, so it’s helpful to choose a lawyer that’s easy to deal with, and the right fit for you.
We’re Your Trusted Alberta Probate Lawyers
If you’re considering hiring a probate lawyer, the knowledgeable Wills & Estates lawyers at West Legal welcome an opportunity to meet with you. We’ll offer you a free-of-charge, no-obligation consultation, and if you choose to use our services, we’ll provide you with sound legal advice, prompt service, and competitive, flat-rate legal fees with no hidden costs.