Selecting an Estate Lawyer

If you think you need an estates lawyer, it's probably because a relative or someone who was close to you has died. This is a tough time to try to find a lawyer, but it still has to be done.

The first thing you must do is figure out what kind of estates lawyer you want.

Generally speaking, there are basically two types of estates lawyers: those who handle the administrative or transactional side of estates, and the litigators, who represent clients in fights over who gets the estate. Some estates lawyers do both, but most of them tend to specialize in one area or the other. If you're involved in a lawsuit over an estate, or if you may end up in one, look for a litigator. Otherwise, a lawyer who handles transactional side of estates may be your best bet. In many if not most instances, estates lawyers with expertise in trusts and estate planning are also good at estate matters.

You'll want to hire the estates lawyer who regularly handles estates matters, but who also knows enough about other fields to question whether the action being taken might be affected by laws in any other areas of law. For example, if the deceased had extensive real estate holdings the lawyer you hire does not need to specialize in real-estate law but, the lawyer should know something about real property law.

If you don't already have a list of prospective estates lawyers, a great place to start your search is right here at You can do a free search to come up with a list of lawyers by using the Find A Lawyer search box that can be accessed from anywhere on

Guidelines for Screening Estates Lawyers

Once you have a list of Canadian estates lawyers, use the following guidelines to do some initial screening and narrow your list down to three or four prospective candidates:

  • Look at biographical information, including whatever you can find on websites for the estates lawyers and their Canadian law firms. Do they appear to have expertise in the area of wills, trusts and estates, or estate planning? Do they have any information on their websites that is helpful to you?
  • Use search engines to surf the Web. Do searches under the name of the estates lawyer and his or her law firm. Can you find any articles, FAQ's or other informational pieces that the estates lawyer has done that that give you a level of comfort?
  • Ask other people if they have heard of the estates lawyers and what they think about them.
  • Contact your provincial law society or visit its website to find out if the estates lawyer is in good standing.
  • You will probably want to hire an estates lawyer with at least a few years of experience. However, experience does not a good estates lawyer make. Every practicing estates lawyer knows other lawyers that he or she would not hire.
  • Unless there are special circumstances, you'll want to hire a lawyer with a local office.
  • Before you hire an estates lawyer, ask for references. You want to talk to people who could comment on the lawyer's skills and trustworthiness. Ask if it is okay to talk to some of the estates lawyer's representative clients.
  • Ask for a copy of a Canadian firm brochure and promotional materials. Crosscheck these materials against other sources and references.
  • Ask to be provided with a copy of the estates lawyer's retainer agreement and have it explained to you before decide on retaining the lawyer or the lawyer's law firm. You may end up paying a lot of money to the estates lawyer you hire, so make sure you understand what you are signing up for.

Consider any special needs you have. For example, could you benefit from an estates lawyer who speaks a language other than English?

You shouldn't necessarily cross an estates lawyer off your list just because he or she didn't have the time to meet with you on short notice. Nor should you expect to be able to discuss your matter on the telephone with the lawyer. Good lawyers are busy, so they may not be able to spend as much time as they would like with prospective clients. But if it takes a lawyer too long to meet with you, it may be a sign that he or she is too busy to give your situation sufficient attention.

You should also anticipate that whomever you hire might have to delegate a lot of responsibility to his or her staff. In turn, an important consideration should be to assess the way the lawyer's staff treats you since they are a reflection of how the lawyer practices. At a minimum, you should expect to be treated courteously and professionally both by the staff and by the estates lawyer.

You should be prepared to pay a fee to meet the estates lawyer. If you're hiring a lawyer to do an uncontested estate, though, the chances are that he or she will handle the matter for a flat fee. Regardless, it doesn't hurt when making an appointment to ask what the fee for the first meeting would be.

Use your common sense to evaluate the remaining lawyers on your list. You'll want to be comfortable with the lawyer you hire. You want to choose the best estates lawyer who you think will do the best job for you.

A great way to start your search for a local Canadian Wills and Estates lawyer is at Go to the 'Find a Lawyer' search box that appears on the right hand side of this screen to start your lawyer search. Type in the area of law you are looking for or the name of the law firm, the city and the province that you are looking to hire a lawyer from, and click on the 'Search Now' button. This will generate a list of local Canadian lawyers.


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