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What’s the Difference Between Probate and Estate Planning Attorneys?

Knowing the differences between probate and estate planning attorney can help you choose the right one for your needs.

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between attorneys who handle probate versus those who provides estate planning? Simply stated, a probate attorney deals with what happens after a person dies. An estate planning attorney provides legal advice and guidance while a person is still alive. Both probate and estate planning attorneys are state licensed.

Visit the Washington State Bar Association to make sure the attorney you want to hire is licensed in Washington state.

Probate

A probate attorney files your will with the court and appoints an executor of your estate. After your death, a probate attorney also pays bills, files taxes, obtains appraisals of your property and distributes assets and property to your heirs. He can also make decisions in regards to your retirement plan.

This lawyer also files a final accounting of your estate and settles any disputes. Some probate attorneys handle legal matters and represent the beneficiary of an estate. Click here to view our referral list of probate attorneys in Washington state.

Related: Click here to read our blog post, 5 Things to Know About Probate in Washington State


Estate Planning

An estate planning attorney helps you plan what happens after your death. While you can create your own will and health care directives, some people prefer to hire an estate planning attorney to write these documents.

Estate planning attorneys also help set up your estate so your assets are distributed the way you want upon your death. This might involve setting up trusts and joint accounts to avoid estate taxes. An estate attorney also helps create non-probate assets so you control how everything will be distributed. This allows the court to more quickly distribute your assets, since non-probate assets are not controlled by the court, according to ElderLawAnswers, a law firm specializing in elder law.

Your estate planning attorney can also set up the proper paperwork to create joint accounts, bank and life insurance accounts with beneficiaries, and property put in a trust.

Finding an estate planning attorney familiar with Washington state law is important to avoid having your plan deemed invalid by the court, says The Balance. Click here to view our referral list of estate planning attorneys in Washington state.

Lawyer Fees: How Much Will Representation Cost?

Lawyer fees vary from firm to firm.

Before you hire an attorney, find out how much the lawyer fees will be. Knowing what you’ll pay can help you plan and budget for the work to be done. Attorney fees and payment arrangements vary from firm to firm, so there’s no set standard.

Ask them to put their fee schedule in writing and find out how they want to be paid. To give you an idea of what to expect, here’s the types of payment arrangements many of the law firms we work with make with their clients.

Hourly Rates

Law firms with set hourly rates charge you by the hour for work done on your case. The lawyer fees may be provided as two different hourly rates: one for work done in the office and another rate for courtroom time. Ask the attorney if the hourly rate includes everything, such as research, court fees and copying. If not, request a breakdown of fees charged beyond the hourly rate. Before you agree to work with the attorney, ask for an estimate on how many hours he estimates your case will take.

Contingency

Some lawyer fees are done on a contingency basis. An attorney who agrees to work on a contingency basis does so without being paid until your case is resolved. Personal injury cases are commonly handled on contingency. Contingency fees can be negotiated, so find out whether she feels the case will be quickly settled or not. A smaller contingency fee may be negotiated if the case requires less work and is settled out of court compared to a lengthy case that goes to trial.

You and your attorney will agree on a percentage as the contingency fee before any work is started. Also ask about other fees you will need to pay for, such as court fees, copying documents and expert witnesses.

Related: Click here to see a list of Accidents & Injuries attorneys in Washington.

Flat Fee

Some attorneys charge by the project, resulting in a flat fee. For instance, they may charge a certain amount to write a will while charging a different flat fee to prepare divorce documents. Ask the attorney if the flat fee covers everything. If not, request a breakdown of fees for any additional costs, such as filing fees and copying, etc.

Related: Click here to see a list of Estate Planning attorneys who write wills, trusts, etc., in Washington.

Retainer

Your attorney may ask you to make a payment up front before work starts on your case. This is known as a retainer, and it’s similar to a deposit. The attorney will then send a billing statement each month with details on how your retainer is being spent.