Legal & Estate Guidance
Unfortunately, the death of a family member can not only bring unbearable sadness; it can also bring legal and estate-related issues to the foreground. Of course, we're not attorneys; which means we're not the right people to advise you on the legal specifics of your situation.
But, we can offer you the wisdom and insights we've gained during our time in funeral service. We invite you to read the pages below, and of course; if you have questions about anything you read here, simply pick up the phone and call us at 204-949-2200. We'll be privileged to assist you.
The death of a loved one can mean that you will need to find an attorney to help with the process of estate settlement. While it isn't necessary to have an attorney prepare an advance directive, it can be advantageous to have one prepare your will or any other estate-related documents.
We have some suggestions to help you find the best attorney to provide the kind of legal services you need:
Think specialization. You don't need just any attorney; you're looking for someone with experience in a particular aspect of the law.
Ask around. There's nothing like a personal referral from someone you trust. Talk to friends, family, co-workers, and neighbours to see if they can recommend an attorney with the right expertise.
Get in touch with the local Bar Association. It will have directory of all practicing lawyers in your area.
Visit legal aid websites - these organizations can provide you with trusted referrals and legal consultation services.
The Next Step in Getting Legal Help
At this point, you should have a list of four or five recommended local attorneys. Now it's time to make that first call. You should first ask to set up a face-to-face meeting but be aware that many attorneys charge for this introductory session. That's why your first question should be:
Do you charge for the initial visit?
If you do agree to a face-to-face meeting, it's important to ask the following questions but be observant too. Look around: is the office organized? Is he or she listening closely to what you have to say? What is your gut feeling to what you're seeing and hearing? Trust your intuition; if you don't feel you are a good match, then move on to the next attorney on your list.
The questions to ask in your initial interview are:
Do you specialize in my type of case?
Do you have any special credentials?
Exactly who will handle my case; the attorney or a paralegal?
Who will be my point-of-contact?
What's the preferred way to communicate with your office?
Will I be billed for phone calls and email correspondence with either the attorney or staff?
How will I be informed about any progress in my case?
How will fees be calculated? Hourly, contingency, or flat fee? If I will be billed hourly, will I be required to pay for portions of an hour?
What expenses am I responsible for?
How often can I expect to receive a bill?
Is advance payment required? What happens to that money if I terminate the case before it's resolved?
Will I receive copies of all documents pertaining to my case?
When you're satisfied you've found the right attorney at the right price, always ask for a written agreement and read it thoroughly. If you have questions about what you've read, ask them before you sign.
Sometimes estate settlement is one of the hardest aspects of dealing with the death of a family member. This doesn't have to be the case if proper preparation of all estate documents took place prior to the death. If you have the services of an experienced estate lawyer at your disposal, there can be even less worry and strife.
What is Probate?
Probate: the official proving of a will. The probate process is intended to establish the legal validity of a will but it involves so much more than merely confirming that the signed, witnessed, and registered copy of a will is authentic.
The Probate Process
In addition to proving in a court of law that the deceased individual's will is valid, probate also declares the probate process also involves:
identifying and inventorying the deceased's personal and real property
having the property appraised
paying debts and taxes
distributing the remaining property as the will (or if there is no will, then state law) directs
What Happens When There is No Will
When someone dies without leaving a dated, signed and properly witnessed will, the court decides who should receive the deceased's assets. It won't matter what your familial relationships were really like; the state will award property and cash to the survivors based solely on their legal relationship to the deceased. This is called dying 'intestate'. Generally only spouses, common-law spouses, and blood relatives inherit under intestate succession laws.
All this can be avoided, if you take care of things ahead of time. When you leave documents that clearly state who you wish to get your property and cash after you die, you better support your survivors in coming to terms with your death without leaving them with a lot of unnecessary distress.
Hiring an Attorney
Losing a loved one can be an overwhelming experience and when you add in estate settlement issues, the months following the death can be much more than we bargained for. That's when it might be advantageous to hire an attorney.
When faced with this situation, it's best to turn to the experts in estate settlement.
Here are some additional resources that you may find helpful:
Liz Davidson, "How to Find a Good Lawyer When You Really Need One"
Consumer Reports, "When You Need to Lawyer Up"
Henry, Alan, "How to Find a Reputable Lawyer"