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Estate and pre-planning guide: Picking a probate lawyer

Both probate and estate planning require extensive knowledge of this area of law, including your state’s rules for gifting property and the necessary requirements to create a valid will.

Not every attorney is equipped with the expertise to assist you in your probate matter or estate planning.

Both probate and estate planning require extensive knowledge of this area of law, including your state’s rules for gifting property and the necessary requirements to create a valid will.

Here are some tips for picking a probate lawyer:

Evaluate your needs

All probate and estate attorneys are not created equal. While probate and estate attorneys need to understand the same substantive law, probate and estate planning are very different fields when it comes to what the attorney actually does every day at work. Probate consists more of litigation — the ins and outs of examining witnesses and convincing a judge or jury — while estate planning is known more as a transactional area of law — drafting the specific documents to accomplish the client’s goal.

Consider experience

It is important to select an estate-planning attorney who is licensed and actively practicing estate planning in the state in which you live. While probate and estate laws have similarities from state to state, each state’s laws have nuances that can amount to significant differences. For example, most states allow you to make your will “self-proving.” A self-proving will speeds up the probate process because the court can accept the will without taking the time to locate and contact the witnesses who observed it being signed.

Think local

A probate attorney needs to not only be licensed and practice in the state where your litigation will take place, but he or she also needs to be familiar with the county and court in which your case will be handled. Probate judges are typically elected and can change frequently. Attorneys who regularly practice probate law in your county will be familiar with the current sitting judge, as well as his or her preferences on filing pleadings, scheduling hearings and courtroom conduct.

An attorney’s familiarity with the court can be priceless and will help keep the proceedings running smoothly. Judges also are more willing to trust an attorney who they know and have seen in their courtroom numerous times. This can be a huge benefit should your case run into an unexpected speed bump along the way.

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