When one looks for an estate planning attorney, they often don’t look for a specific estate planning attorney. They may talk to their own attorneys, friends who are attorneys, or any attorney who claims to handle estate planning affairs. Despite how basic a will preparation may seem, no one should have “just anybody” draft one for them. Finding the right attorney to plan your estate is crucial, and you need to analyze any attorney you are considering to handle something as important as your family and your estate. So before you schedule that initial consultation, be sure to ask and answer the following questions about your prospective lawyer.
Is the attorney’s primary focus on estate planning?
This question may or may not be important to you from the standpoint that if all you think you need is a simple Will, power of attorney, and/or health care documents. An attorney whose practice is broad but includes simple estate planning and probate matters might work just fine in this situation, but an inexperienced attorney may not recognize issues that need to be addressed in your estate plan. On the other hand, if you have a complicated family or financial situation or a taxable estate, then you’ll need to work with someone whose primary focus is on estate planning and estate tax reduction.
How many years of experience does the attorney have?
The more years of experience the attorney has, the more the attorney will have had the opportunity to see their essential estate planning documents in action when a client becomes disabled or dies. The Wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and health care documents used by attorneys who have been in business for a while have been revised and tweaked to deal with the everyday situations that their clients encounter. This will give you the peace of mind to know that the documents they prepare for you will work when they’re needed.
Does the attorney assist clients with properly funding their assets into a revocable living trust?
Many attorneys create beautiful estate plans for their clients but then fail to assist them with the next important step: funding the revocable living trust. A well-drafted trust will be virtually useless immediately after you die if your assets aren’t titled in the name of the trust while you’re still alive. Some firms you comprehensive written instructions. Still, others will merely mention the importance of funding but fail to give you any guidance whatsoever. I strongly recommend that you work with an attorney who will oversee the funding process and be willing to possibly pay the attorney an extra fee to do so, because chances are you won’t complete all of the necessary funding on your own.
Does the attorney charge a flat fee or an hourly rate for providing estate planning and other services?
This is an important question to ask so that you won’t be surprised by hidden fees and costs. These days the majority of estate planning attorneys charge a fixed fee for most, if not all, of their services. This will give you the peace of mind to know that the flat fee is all that you’ll be required to pay. You’ll need to understand, however, what the flat fee does and doesn’t cover, and when the attorney will charge an additional flat fee or start billing you on an hourly basis.
Ask yourself: “Can I see myself working closely with this attorney?”
Even if the prospective attorney answers all of the other questions to your satisfaction, this is the most important question that you need to ask yourself. If you aren’t comfortable with the attorney, then chances are you won’t be happy with the attorney’s work. But don’t be alarmed; it’s better determine this sooner rather than later. Simply move on until you find an attorney who you feel comfortable enough to trust with your personal and financial information.