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How to Research a Potential Estate Attorney’s Credentials

When choosing an attorney to assist with your estate or trust, you should research credentials and conduct interviews. Check the Web site of the firm at which the estate lawyer is employed. Also check your state’s licensing and oversight agency for attorneys. Be sure to interview the attorney and ask about his or her experience handling trusts, estates, and probate issues. Also ask about work and communication processes and privacy policies.

Checking the attorney’s credentials

In order to verify an attorney’s credentials, check out the following:

  • The law firm’s Web site: Often, Web sites include attorneys’ abbreviated resumes, lists of articles written, or professional and charitable organizations. Because you may find yourself working closely with this person for a long time on your estate or trust, this relationship is an important one.

  • Your state’s licensing and oversight agency for attorneys: If the attorney you select isn’t personally known to you or to someone you trust, check with a Board of Bar Overseers to ensure that the attorney hasn’t had any complaints or malpractice suits filed.

Interviewing the attorney

Finding a competent attorney is the first step in crafting an effective partnership between you — as the executor, administrator, or trustee — and your new attorney. You must establish lines of communication and determine whether you and the attorney are compatible.

Before you get too involved in the administration process, you may want to interview the attorney to determine whether you’ll be able to work efficiently with this person. Among the questions you may want to ask are these:

  • How much experience do you have in administering estates and trusts and handling probate issues?

  • How often do you check in with your clients?

  • How long does it typically take you to respond to requests from clients?

  • Who actually performs the work? Is it the attorney, or it is it a paralegal, trust or estate administrator, or legal secretary? In some cases, a subordinate prepares the work, and the attorney simply reviews and assumes responsibility for it. This arrangement can be cost effective for you because the hourly rates for junior staff are lower than those for more senior attorneys.

  • How do you prefer to communicate with clients? Do you communicate via phone, written correspondence, e-mail, or in person?

  • What are your privacy policies?

You should ensure that you have answers to these and other questions important to you before you decide whether to hire this attorney. If you later decide that the attorney you’ve chosen is no longer someone you are comfortable with, you can change. An estate or trust attorney works for you, the executor or trustee, and not for the estate or trust. If you’re not happy, keep searching until you find the right person.

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