It is something many people talk about doing but never seem to get around to. In fact, 62% of Americans have not yet completed the job. I’m talking about that task that makes us face our own mortality, the development of a will and trust.
When a person dies without a will, their assets are frozen and the state decides on the division of property. The probate process is confusing whether or not your loved one has a will and trust. Consulting with a probate attorney is always a good idea.
The best probate lawyer will have the legal knowledge to guide you through the administration of an estate and trust. Read on to learn everything you need to know about hiring a probate attorney.
Estate Planning v. Trust Lawyers
An estate planning attorney is a professional that assists you or a loved one in setting up your complete estate plan, including wills and trusts. An estate plan makes it easier for those left behind to administer the estate. This guarantees the distribution of your assets in accordance with your wishes.
After a loved one passes away the personal representative (sometimes called an executor) must follow the procedures outlined in Chapter 851 of the Wisconsin Statutes for the administration of an estate. Any estate in Wisconsin in excess of $50,000 must go through probate unless the property meets exception requirements.
Property that is exempt from probate includes items titled jointly with another person, items with a beneficiary listed, life insurance proceeds, and retirement funds that designate a beneficiary other than the decedent’s estate. Another exception is any assets in a trust.
The role of the personal representative in administering an estate requires several specific tasks to be completed. This includes an inventory of the decedent’s assets and management of those assets during the probate process. They must also pay outstanding debts, taxes, and estate expenses prior to distributing assets to beneficiaries.
If you find yourself facing the task of administering an estate or trust and are unsure of the proper steps, a knowledgeable probate attorney will walk you through the process. You do not have to use the same attorney that wrote the will when seeking assistance with administration.
Gather All Necessary Paperwork
If you are meeting with a probate attorney because you have been appointed as personal representative of a will or trustee of a trust, you will want to bring the following paperwork to your meeting:
- Copies of the death certificate
- The deceased’s last will and testament, trust, and any codicils or amendments
- Bank statements and other financial records
- Inventory of the deceased’s assets
- List of names, addresses, and contact information for beneficiaries of the will or trust
If you do not have all this information at the initial meeting that is okay. Your attorney will advise you on what is necessary to proceed.
The Initial Consultation
When you meet with a potential attorney take all paperwork and a list of questions you want to ask. Attorneys are not insulted if you walk in prepared. You’ve never met with a probate attorney before, so what do you ask?
- How long have you been working as a probate attorney?
- Do you work on a flat fee, hourly rate, or percentage?
- Are there certain aspects of the estate administration I can perform on my own?
- Will you prepare and file the final tax returns for the estate?
- How long will it take to complete the probate process?
- How long does the probate process take?
- What issues might arise in the handling of this estate
- Do you have a legal assistant or paralegal who will be working on my case?
If the estate you are handling is large, ask about their experience in preparing estate tax returns. It is possible they hire a certified public accountant to handle tax preparation as part of their legal services.
If the estate handling is on a percentage basis, this can be quite costly on large estates. Percentage fees are usually between 2% to 7% of the estate’s gross value and can take a big chunk of the estate’s financial holdings.
In addition to attorney fees, you will need to pay court fees, appraisal fees, and recording fees for things such as property deeds and title transfers.
Do Your Personalities Click?
You are hiring a probate attorney for their professional services, so you don’t have to be best buddies. You do want someone you can communicate easily with and there are no personality conflicts that jump out.
Make sure the attorney listens to your questions and provides complete answers. The attorney needs to be respectful of your concerns and makes sure you understand everything. If you feel like the attorney is talking down to you, it will likely be a difficult working relationship and you should look elsewhere.
The Retainer or Fee Agreement
The attorney will ask if you want to proceed with hiring them. If you are comfortable and want to proceed, by all means, get things rolling. If you want to think about it or contact another attorney or two, the attorney should be respectful of your wishes.
You want to hire the best probate lawyer for the job. Keep in mind that the attorney will not begin performing any work for you until they have a signed agreement. The retainer agreement will specify the amount you are paying and the work to be performed.
Hourly attorney fees are billed on a portion of the hour. Some attorneys bill on the 10th of the hour, others on the quarter, and some on the half-hour. What this means is that if you hire an attorney with quarter-hourly billing, every 15 minutes or portion thereof that services are performed on your case you will be billed.
Looking for a Probate Attorney Near Me
If you are trying to administer an estate and you need a probate attorney. The offices of Neuberger, Griggs, Sweet & Froehle, LLP can help.
The experienced attorneys in our Lake Mills and Watertown area can meet your needs regardless of what stage of estate administration you are in. Call us today (920) 261-1630 to schedule a consultation or use our online contact form. Don’t wait until it is too late, call today!