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Legal Resources

Unfortunately, loss of a loved one can be accompanied by legal issues. In most cases, a death results in the management of the deceased’s estate. This is not necessarily a complicated issue, but it still requires some legal dealings. Legal issues simply compound the stress felt by those suffering grief of bereavement.

Estate management can be dealt with by the deceased prior to death. This often simplifies the process, however, in the case where the deceased did not pre-arrange the estate management, it can become a more complicated process to navigate.

Whether pre-arranged or not, there is a need to have an attorney manage the estate. Pre-arranged estate management with an attorney usually designates an executor. 

Executor

The executor is the person responsible for managing the legal and financial affairs of the deceased and ensuring the assets/property are distributed according to the instructions of the deceased’s will. The executor does not always have to be knowledgeable about estate law, they simply facilitate the wishes set out in the will, however, the attorney may also be the executor. The legalities and any further assistance executing the will can be sought from an attorney.

The executor may be someone chosen by the deceased prior to death and may have additional duties beyond executing the will such as:

  • Notifying family members, friends and employers of the death
  • Securing and making an inventory of the deceased’s assets and facilitating their transfer
  • Ordering the death certificate and possibly registering the death
  • Run the estate while will execution is underway e.g. pay utility bills, secure the building while unoccupied
  • Notify Canada Revenue of the death

The executor should be an organized person with good communication skills.

executor signing a will

How to choose an attorney for estate management

Choosing an attorney to deal with the deceased’s estate is something that should be done with some consideration.

  1. To ensure the process of estate settlement goes smoothly, consider a specialist attorney. With plenty of past experience, they are likely to avoid any delays or pitfalls which commonly occur with estate settlement.
  2. As with any service or product, ask friends and family for referrals. There is nothing better than a personal referral from someone who has used a service in the past with positive reviews.
  3. You can contact a local legal association such as the Canadian Bar Association Alberta Branch or the Law Society of Alberta and ask for information about attorneys who deal with real estate settlement. They should have a directory of all the lawyers in the area.
  4. Do some internet searches and contact the firms that stand out to you.
  5. With a list of potential attorneys in hand, start contacting them and ask for an in person meeting. However, be careful that many may charge an introductory session fee so make sure you ask if there is a charge for the initial visit as some may not state this clearly.
  6. During the initial interview, find out their credentials to ensure they are legitimate. This would be a good time to ask if they have any additional specialist credentials.
  7. Ask if they specialise in estate settlement and producing will and testament for clients. What you may find is that a specialist will have somewhat of a template for a will and testament which allow the addition of all the relevant information. An attorney working on a will from scratch may not be as experienced as they claim.
  8. Ask who will be the point of contact for the client i.e. will you be talking to a secretary or paralegal, or directly to the attorney.
  9. Find out what you will be charged for and how much. Flat fee or hourly rate? You need to be clear whether you will get charged for phone calls and emails in addition to the standard charge. If this is not clear from the start, you may end up with a much larger bill than expected. The law society of Alberta provide some useful information on understanding lawyer fees.
  10. In addition, find out when you will receive a bill i.e. after the estate has been settled or monthly throughout the process. Also ask if advanced payment or deposit is required. 

man writing a eulogy

Further information about questions to ask before hiring a lawyer can be found here. If you are happy with all the answers provided, then you may have found the right attorney for you. If not offered one, request a written agreement and read it thoroughly and ensure all the information reflects the answers you got before signing it.

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