Probate and estate planning attorneys move about in a similar universe, but they play separate and distinct roles.
A probate attorney is involved in handling estates when a person dies. This is sometimes referred to as estate administration. This would include, among other things, assisting a person in qualifying as executor, identifying and marshalling assets, paying final estate expenses, filing any required inheritance tax returns, selling a home, preparing accountings and making final distributions.
Estate Planning Attorney
An estate planning attorney is involved in creating as estate plan to make sure the person's assets are distributed in accordance with his or her wishes when they die. This includes preparing a Last Will and Testament, Powers of Attorney, Living Wills and Trusts. Attorneys who specialize in estate planning understand the laws of asset distribution as well as the tax implications of a person's testamentary wishes. And the best attorneys also have the patience to listen to what the client would like to accomplish and take the time to draw up the will so it accomplishes the client's objectives. Some estate plans are pretty simple and straight forward, while others are more complex and require more of the attorney's time and advise.
Who Should You Choose?
Choosing a lawyer is the same as choosing any other processional: Do they care? Do they listen? Are they knowledgeable? Are the responsive?
Beyond that, when it comes to probate and of estate planning, it can be beneficial to retain an attorney who is experienced in both areas so that the attorney has sufficient insight when advising you about a particular issue. For instance, if the client is elderly or wants to disinherit a family member and there is concern that the will may be contested, it may be helpful to retain an attorney who has been involved in probate work and handling contested wills so that steps can be taken at the time the will is drawn and executed to minimize the likelihood of a successful will contest. Similarly, for a probate matter where there is a question about how to interpret a particular will provision or the tax implications of a bequest, it is helpful to retain an attorney who also prepares wills and is familiar with these types of issues.