It’s a common scenario: Someone who had named you as the executor of their estate has just died.
You need to deal with contacting friends and relatives, the funeral, the obituary, paying bills, and other arrangements.
What you do not need to decide in these first few days is which estate attorney to use.
If you are fortunate, the deceased has left a trust that makes distribution of the estate extremely simple and you need not read further.
However, many older people resist establishing trusts because they feel they are losing control over their assets, even though they are not.
For this and other various reasons, there may just be a will – or worse no will at all.
Your choice of estate attorney is therefore very important.
You want someone who will:
1. Price their services fairly
2. Advise you in advance what to expect, how long it will take, what is required of you and how much it will cost
I would recommend getting a good estimate of the size of the estate before you contact an attorney.
For instance, in Florida the guideline for the attorney’s fee is 3% of the estate’s value at the time of death.
In my case, immediately following news of my loss, a friend recommended an attorney that I had actually met once socially. She had not used him personally – as she was in a different city – but was trying to be helpful.
This attorney turned out to be a huge disappointment.
Because he was introduced through a friend – and we were going through the throes of a loss – I did not:
1. Do proper diligence in selecting an attorney by checking alternatives
2. Check the “fine print” of contract that I signed with him
In retrospect, there was no reason to rush into making this decision. Sure, I was reassured having someone to answer early questions (for which he charged for every minute).
You certainly should get the the estate bank account set up, but there is no reason this cannot wait a few weeks.
Of course, you cannot use the deceased’s credit cards or spend any money in the estate in the interim. Just hang onto any incoming checks for deposit into the estate account.
Our attorney created significant unnecessary costs as well as causing delays in processing the estate.
In my case, there was a will specifying me as executor with clearly identified beneficiaries – so it should have been a straightforward matter.
About six months into the process of clearing the estate (that ultimately stretched to almost a full year), we became pre-paid legal subscribers.
At about that time, a financial advisor for the deceased flagged one of our attorney’s practices as very suspicious. So we took advantage of a free hour of consultation with a Pre-Paid legal attorney to find out more.
How we wished we had been with Pre-Paid Legal at the time we were first searching for an estate attorney!
Ten months after hiring him, our lawyer abruptly resigned after we sent a letter questioning his bill. He then sent us a bill for the time it took him to file a lien against our estate to get paid in full. Using Pre-Paid Legal, we were able to hire an appropriate attorney – at a reasonable and predictable fee – to finish the probate process and negotiate a settlement with the first attorney.
If you’d like to learn more, I recommend you talk to the very competent woman with whom I first signed up for Pre-Paid Legal, Kim Roberts. Or ask me more about my experiences with the service.
Update: Pre-Paid Legal is now called Legal Shield.