California Probate Lawyers: How to Choose Yours (1st of 2 parts)
Finding a qualified probate lawyer in California means doing more than reading their advertisement or website. Once a lawyer passes the bar exam and is licensed to practice law, a lawyer can claim to practice in any field of law. Though a lawyer can practice in any area of the law that doesn’t mean the lawyer is competent to practice in that area (much less is good at it.) Competence comes from education in that practice area, training, and experience.
It is common to find lawyers advertising they do probate in addition to two, three, or four different practice areas. Almost always these practice areas have nothing at all to do with probate. If you look at the ads it’s easy to find lawyers that say they do some combination of personal injury, family, real estate, business, and bankruptcy law in addition to probate. None of these practice areas has anything to do with probate. In fact, none of these areas even require those lawyers to go into probate court!
On the other hand, you probably won’t find a lawyer in California who does only probate. What you will find, if you look carefully, are lawyers who do some combination of drafting estate plans (that means wills and trusts), probate, trust administration, probate litigation, and trust litigation. If a problem comes up during the probate of a will or intestate estate then you want a lawyer who will go to court to make the plan work; not one who will abandon you in the middle of a case. Too many lawyers only dabble in probate and probate litigation. Having a lawyer who actively litigates protects you from the beginning of your case. That’s because any probate can unexpectedly turn nasty and degenerate into litigation. If your lawyer doesn’t do litigation then you’re going to have to change your lawyer midway through your probate.
Don’t choose a lawyer who does probate as a sideline. When a problem comes up during your case these lawyers often lock up or blunder forward causing real problems for their client and the beneficiaries. As a result their cases often take longer than those handled by experienced California probate lawyers. Knowing how to address difficult situations only comes from the experience gained by having dealt with them before and the willingness to go to court when necessary.