Finding an estate planning attorney can be overwhelming. Here are some pointers to help you make the right choice.
Qualifications. It is fair to question an attorney as to how they developed their estate planning expertise. Often attorneys who are transitioning from other practice areas may present themselves as an estate planning attorney although they have little actual training or experience. Ask how many trusts have they drafted. Do they hold any advanced degrees? To which professional associations do they belong? Keep in mind that it is impossible to be an expert in all areas of the law.
Attorney’s Fees. Price is always an important factor. However, making your selection solely on price may not be wise. In setting fees, a reputable attorney will consider the amount of time that they will need to invest and the complexity of the plan. Once they know what needs to be done, they can quote a fee.
Customized Documents. A high-quality estate plan should be custom drafted to fit your individual and family needs. Be suspicious of firms who quote flat fees over the phone for anything more than a simple will, or who advertise low prices for trusts. This often means the attorney does not draft custom documents but rather uses the same boilerplate document for each client and simply fills in the blanks. That is not planning, it’s word processing.
The Process. During your planning meeting your attorney should spend several hours with you and your spouse gathering detailed information about you and your loved ones, including your hopes and fears. Whether you are single, divorced, widowed, married, or have a blended family, the planning process should also include a lot of interactive questions intended to help formulate your unique plan.
Additional Services. Be sure to ascertain exactly which services your attorney provides and whether there are additional costs for: trust funding (changing title and/or ownership to your trust), answering questions and telephone conversations with you or your financial advisors, reviewing and explaining your estate plan with your successor trustees and with your family in the event of your disability or death, future modifications to your estate plan, and recording and filing fees.
Success. A successful estate plan establishes clear instructions for your successors and trustees as to what they should do to achieve your objectives. Your attorney should work with your team of professionals ( financial planners, accountants, life insurance advisors), to advise and assist you and your successors. Be sure to look for an estate planning attorney with whom you and your spouse feel comfortable and at ease. Planning is not a transaction, it is a lifelong exercise. Chemistry is important, as is competence and shared values. Do your research. Ask questions.
Life can change in an instant. What are you waiting for?