Advantages of Retaining an Estate Lawyer

Posted on March 1, 2024 in Estate Litigation | Wills & Estate Planning by Faith Baron

When you are appointed executor of an estate, there are many advantages to retaining an estate lawyer to assist you with your duties.  In particular, if you do not have experience preparing the necessary documents to be filed with the court in order to obtain Letters Probate, you may find that the process is overwhelming and time-consuming.  Fortunately, a lawyer who has expertise in estate administration will ease the burden.  While you will still need to collect a lot of information and perform various tasks, your lawyer will help you navigate the court procedures and guide you through the steps in estate administration. 

Even for relatively simple estates, executors have a long list of tasks.  These include but are not necessarily limited to securing the original Will, notifying various entities of the passing of the testator, cancelling subscriptions and other contracts, applying for death benefits and insurance proceeds, collecting information from financial institutions, advertising for and satisfying creditors, paying funeral expenses, obtaining information about all assets, applying for Letters Probate, selling real property, liquidating and collapsing other assets to one estate account, filing final tax returns, accounting to beneficiaries, and making distributions in accordance with the Will.  While some of these tasks can be efficiently and quickly performed, others might demand significant time and require careful attention.  Your lawyer can provide advice and guidance as you navigate these administrative challenges.  Getting it right the first time saves time and money.

Another advantage of retaining a lawyer is that “core services” are subject to the Tariff of Legal Fees, which dictates the maximum amount of legal fees your lawyer can charge the estate.  Once the total value of the assets are determined, your lawyer will be able to calculate how much the estate will pay to have the lawyer perform the core services.  The Tariff thus provides certainty and ensures that the estate is not being overcharged.  Of course, there are times when an estate requires services that are “non-core” in nature and in those circumstances your lawyer’s regular rate will most likely apply.  Some examples of non-core services include applications to court for direction, resolution of disputes between beneficiaries or creditors, and passing your accounts. 

When you are an executor, the beneficiaries depend on you to protect and manage the estate efficiently and in the best interest of the estate as a whole.  Your lawyer will not only assist you with the things you need to accomplish but also help you handle more difficult situations when you are not sure what the law says about some issue that has arisen or not sure what to do.  Quite often the most valuable advice you will obtain from your estate lawyer is about what not to do.  Such advice can help you avoid pitfalls and other errors. This is important because when you are dealing with an estate, there are frequent opportunities for disputes to arise.  Executors can get themselves into hot water easily, so it is wise to have a seasoned advisor at your side from the outset.

Should an unfortunate situation arise during the administration of an estate, such as a dispute that gives rise to a formal court action, the estate will likely need a litigator (i.e. the kind of lawyer who handles disputes and court actions).  There are lawyers who handle estate administration and litigation files, and this may be an advantage if a dispute turns litigious. Such a lawyer will already have the relevant background knowledge and understand the history and details of the estate without having to spend time getting up to speed, which also saves money.  Further, a lawyer who has expertise in litigation can often spot a potential problem before it erupts into a serious dispute and can offer advice on how to address the concern in a professional, honest, and transparent way with the beneficiaries.  Similarly, if there is a court action, a litigator who also practices in estate administration will be ready and able to identify and analyze legal issues specific to estates, such as the technical requirements for a valid Will or the interpretation of certain instructions or the level of detail required for passing accounts.

Last, an estate lawyer is often supported by a team of other lawyers and legal assistants in their firm who have expertise in a variety of other areas.  So, for example, if an executor needs to deal with property located outside of Canada or the distribution of shares in a private corporation or a complex tax issue, your lawyer will likely have the support of their colleagues to request specific expertise when needed. All of which can assist you manage the duty of executor in a timely and efficient manner.

Faith Baron
500-123 2nd Avenue S, Saskatoon, SK S7K 7E6
Telephone: 306-244-0132

The information in this article is not legal advice. We encourage you to consult with your legal advisor for advice specific to you.

This article was originally published in The Western Producer.