Thinking of getting an estate lawyer? Here are a few things to consider.

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What can an estate lawyer help with?

Estate lawyers are an excellent resource during the estate administration process. Their primary responsibilities are:

  • Receiving instructions and gathering documents from the executor
  • Preparing applications for receiving a grant of probate
  • Reviewing the will and advising the executor on its validity
  • Obtaining information about, transferring, and realizing the estate’s assets
  • Advising on tax returns
  • Confirming clearance with taxation authorities
  • Facilitating interim and final distributions of the estate
  • Submitting financial statements, notices, and release forms to beneficiaries

Lawyers can take some of the estate-related duties off executors’ hands, but what they will or won't do can range from person to person and place to place. In addition, lawyer fees can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousands of dollars, depending on the tasks they are performing.

Is a lawyer necessary for settling an estate?

If you have the right information about estate laws and resources in your region, it is possible to complete a court application and administer the estate without a lawyer. However, this decision should be made carefully. 

When does it make sense to get a lawyer?

Legal support can be very helpful, especially for large or complicated estates. A lawyer can help you decide if a formal court application is necessary. They can also help you complete forms, understand your duties, assist with distributing the estate and advise on various legal and financial issues. Lots of situations justify getting legal help In general, if the following situations apply, it is strongly recommended that you consult a lawyer: 

  • If there are beneficiaries under the age of 18
  • If there are disputes or disagreements between beneficiaries
  • If the estate is large and complicated
  • If the deceased owned a business
  • If the deceased owned property outside of the province they lived in
  • If there is a farm or mineral rights in the estate
  • If there are assets that are difficult to appraise or sell
  • If the estate cannot cover all debts

What tasks might estate lawyers charge additional fees for?

Estate lawyers can be assigned extra administrative tasks related to settling the estate - but usually these come at a cost. As examples, in Canada, the Schedule I “C” of the Queen’s Bench Rules of Court Tariff of Costs in Saskatchewan and the Law Society of Alberta both identify fees for core services and “non-core services.” In American states, the same is often true (see, for instance, these examples from Florida and Wisconsin).

Extra legal or administrative tasks

States and provinces vary in the services lawyers will provide. The following services often fall outside of “ordinary,” “basic,” or “core” services, so they could come with additional costs:

  • Sales of land or business
  • Correspondence with different agencies or individuals
  • Creation and dissemination of notifications
  • Property appraisals
  • Mailing and photocopying documents
  • Court filing fees
  • Paying bills
  • Postage

Duties typically performed by executors

Duties that are ordinarily performed by the executor will also fall outside of lawyers’ “core” services, but can be completed by them for a fee. These might include:

  • Distributing personal belongings
  • Dealing with life insurance policies
  • Cancelling benefits
  • Providing documentation to receive benefits
  • Locating and meeting with beneficiaries
  • Canceling identifications (e.g., drivers’ licenses or passports), permits, or certifications
  • Transferring or cancelling motor vehicle permits and certificates
  • Canceling services and financial contracts
  • Canceling virtual identities (e.g., email accounts, social media accounts)

Can Cadence offer legal help?

Cadence does not offer legal advice but can refer you to a lawyer on request.  If you would like help finding an estate lawyer in your area, reach out to us by phone, or contact us on our website.