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What is a probate engagement letter?

Probate Information • Aug 14, 2022
post about What is a probate engagement letter?

What do you have to sign to start probating an estate or will? Or, simply to have an experienced probate lawyer in your corner? Well, I guess that depends. Let’s discuss what a probate engagement letter in Florida is, what it looks like, and why you may need one. Or not ! Whether you are a beneficiary of a multi-million estate ,or a Personal Representative of a small estate, read on.

It’s common in Florida for probate lawyers to ask clients to sign a probate engagement letter. #probateengagementletter

Starting the Probate Process

Why do you even need a probate? Can’t you just get your inheritance automatically?

Well, in Florida, when a person dies, there are tricky and unique laws.

About how money or property “goes,” or “passes,” to loved ones, family members and beneficiaries.

How the decedent’s debts get paid —- or don’t get paid. There’s a special order to how all creditors get paid. Creditors have to jump through certain legal “hoops.” And not all creditors are created equally! (Don’t blame me, that’s the way the legislature wanted it in their Florida Probate Creditor Laws).

You see, loved ones and beneficiaries don’t automatically inherit an estate. There are rules. And procedures to follow. To the shock of many estate beneficiaries and family members……………beneficiaries get paid last! After the probate lawyers, after creditors and after the Florida Executor.

Many times, to follow the rules (the law) and to get it right, you need a Formal Administration.

OK……………so what’s that got to do with a probate engagement letter?

Why Probate Engagement Letters Matter

Whether or not you are the Estate Personal Representative charged with “running” the estate, or a family member beneficiary, you may need a probate lawyer looking out for you.

If you are administering the estate, you are required to have a lawyer in a Formal Administraiton.

If you are a beneficiary, you don’t need to have your own attorney. But many choose to hire a probate lawyer.

Why do bene’s hire an estate lawyer? Well, if you trust your personal representative, there is probably no reason to hire counsel. Why incur those fees? Why pay a lawyer when the executor already has one ? And is a fiduciary who is supposed to be looking out for you?

If you are hiring a probate lawyer, they will most probably ask you to sign a probate engagement letter. The letter is merely a contract which sets forth the terms of her representation for you. Very common for attorneys and law firms. Typical provisions include:

  • Who is handling your legal matter for you and whether others in the firm will be working on your legal matter.
  • Whether just you are hiring the firm, or if you consent to the firm’s joint representation of you and others.
  • The rates of compensation or fees which the attorney and others in the firm is/are charging you.
  • Is it a flat fee, an hourly rate, or a contingency fee.
  • The scope of the services which the lawyer will provide. And, in many, instances, the letter will tell you what services they will NOT provide.
  • Sometimes there is language or words about what happens if you don’t pay your lawyer.
  • And sometimes there are client rights which are spelled out. For example, a client has a right to fire her attorney. A reason does NOT need to be given.

So, these letters are not uncommon. And, from a beneficiary’s perspective, wouldn’t you want to know, in writing, who you are hiring and what he or she will do for you? But, never sign something that you don’t understand. And feel free to obtain your own, independent advice on what you are asked to sign.