What’s the Difference Between a Probate Attorney and an Estate Planning Attorney?

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Attorneys love their jargon.

Well, we don’t love it. But it’s hard to escape using it, when it means specific things.

One question that I’ve heard come up is, “What kind of attorney do I need?” and, “I don’t even know what to look for.”

When it comes to finding the right attorney, I always suggest asking any attorney friend of yours, “what kind of attorney handles this?” and “where would you look for an attorney like this?” That’s for people who know an attorney. I can’t imagine what kind of daunting task it is to find an attorney without anyone to help you navigate the legal jargon.

So, here we are; navigating the legal jargon around Probate and Estate Planning.

Estate Planning Attorney

The key to understanding this term is the word “planning.” People should meet with an estate planning attorney before they become incapacitated. Before there’s a life or death emergency. Meet with that lawyer so you can come up with a proper plan and have time to sign the necessary documents.

An estate planning lawyer drafts the documents you need for when you die. These include a will and maybe a trust. She will also draft documents you should have if you become incapacitated. These include a healthcare proxy and power of attorney.

Probate Attorney

I never studied Latin, so forgive me if I get some of this translation wrong.

The word “probate” originates from the Latin verb probare, which means “to try, test, prove, examine”

In legal jargon, a probate attorney is an attorney who deals with administering the estate of the deceased. They may file paperwork in probate, contest a will, or simply help the personal representative (otherwise known as the “executor”) untangle and distribute the deceased person’s assets and pay their debts.

Estate Planning Attorney or Probate Attorney?

You can think of these terms as before and after.

Before death or incapacity, you need an estate planning attorney.

After death, you need a probate attorney.

During incapacity? Call either an estate planner or a probate attorney, tell them why you think you need an attorney, and they’ll direct you to the right specialty.

It’s very possible that you’re looking for a guardianship or conservatorship attorney.

Or, you can reach out to me. I’ll let you know what kind of attorney you’re looking for. I handle estate planning, some probate, and some guardianship matters. But if I don’t do it, I can either tell you who does, or suggest that you look on the WBA Lawyer Referral Directory to find a qualified attorney.


Rebecca Neale

Principal Attorney

As an attorney, Rebecca represents people in divorce, custody, and guardianship proceedings. She also advises people about end-of-life decisions and creates estate plans tailored to their needs and goals. Read more about Rebecca’s Experience here.
Bedford Family Law

Bedford, Massachusetts

Let's Work Together

When you reach out to Bedford Family Lawyer for a consultation, we will ask, “What is your goal?” We want to know how we can get you from where you are now to where you want to be, and we will show you the different paths to get there. 

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