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Common Questions People Ask Lawyers

How much will a lawyer charge me for services?

Many attorneys offer a free initial consultation to discuss your legal matter. Sometimes this is an in-person meeting and other times it is via phone or Zoom, etc. The purpose of the consultation is to determine the nature of your claim and the area of law involved. Often the result of this meeting is that the attorney may suggest ways you can resolve the issue informally by working things out yourself. Also if the matter is something outside the attorney’s field of practice, he may refer you to another lawyer who works in that specific field.

If you don’t know whether there is a charge for the initial meeting with the attorney, just ask him or her about it before the meeting begins so you won’t be surprised by a bill at the end of the session.

At the initial consultation, if you decide to hire the attorney to handle your case, you will sign a contract that specifies the details of the attorney’s fees. Generally, there are three types of fee arrangements. In car wreck and other personal injury cases, lawyers usually charge a percentage of the recovery (one-third is most common), and you don’t owe the attorney a fee unless he obtains money for you. Another arrangement is a flat fee. That means the attorney will charge you a set amount to handle the case and the fee is usually due upfront. This often happens in criminal cases. The third type of fee arrangement is an hourly rate. This often happens in business litigation and other matters.

Do I need a lawyer to handle my case?

A lot of times, the answer to the question is “No.”

For instance, in a fender bender low impact car wreck, where all you have is minor damage to your car, you usually can work out the deal with the at-fault driver who causes the wreck, or with his insurance company’s adjuster. The dollar amount of damage is easily calculated and there isn’t much wiggle room on the amount owed.

However, in a major vehicle accident where there are serious injuries or death, you would be foolish to think you could handle the matter yourself and should contact an attorney as soon as possible. A skilled attorney can make a huge difference in the end result of the case and will level the playing field for you to ensure you receive justice.

Should I have a lawyer prepare my will, or can I download one off the Internet?

This is one of the areas where people often make a huge mistake with a DIY approach.

Often spouses will download wills and other planning documents for free or for a few dollars only to discover after one of them becomes sick or passes away that the result of the will or planning document was far different than they thought it would be. The language in wills is hyper-technical and has very specific legal meanings. The meanings vary from state to state.

I highly recommend that anyone considering having life planning documents prepared schedule a consultation with an attorney.

What are the most important life-planning documents?

Each person’s situation is unique, so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all list of planning documents. But there are several key ones that most people should have.

First is a Will. A Will determines who will receive your property on your death. Remember that a Will has no legal effect during your lifetime, so that’s where the other planning tools come into play.

Next is the General Durable Power of Attorney. It is how you appoint an agent (your “attorney in fact”) who is authorized to make virtually any decision you could make. The word “durable” means that the power of attorney will remain in effect throughout your lifetime, even if you become incompetent. This is a very important because it prevents the need for guardianship.

The Medical Power of Attorney allows you to appoint an agent to make healthcare decisions for you.

Finally, the Directive to Physicians is the document you use to let your loved ones and your doctors know if you want extraordinary means used to prolong your life. This tool is often referred to on the street as a “Living Will,” even though it isn’t a Will.

What is “Probate”?

Probate is the legal process used to authenticate a Will. In the eyes of the law, a Will doesn’t legally exist unless it has been “probated.”

The probate process consists of filing the Will together with an application to probate it in the probate court of the county in which the person making the Will resided at the time of his or her death. Usually you will need an attorney to handle the filing of the documents. Once the judge of the court where the Will is filed determines the Will is valid, he or she will issue an order admitting the Will to probate, and the Will will take legal effect.

Depending on the size and nature of the decedent’s property, the steps necessary to conclude the probate proceeding may be only a few or may be quite involved.