Choosing an estate planning lawyer is a very personal process. You’ll be sharing information with your attorney for years, so it’s important that you find a lawyer you feel comfortable working with.
Start by asking friends and family for recommendations. You can also ask financial professionals you trust, such as your accountant or insurance agent.
Most attorneys get a significant percentage of their new clients from referrals, so make sure to ask any friends and family members who they use. Also talk to financial professionals you trust, such as CPAs and bankers. They may be able to recommend estate planning attorneys they have worked with.
Some attorneys focus solely on estate planning, while others are generalists and practice several areas of law. It is generally better to find a specialist in estate planning, because that attorney will be more familiar with the latest laws and issues in this area of practice.
You should also ask if the attorney has any other specializations, such as advanced-level estate tax planning or Medicaid/VA benefits. This can be important if you have complex assets or unique situations that may require additional legal knowledge. Also, be aware that some attorneys have a flat fee for estate planning, while others offer bundled service packages.
Look at Their Website
The best estate planning lawyers have a deep understanding of their clients’ personal goals and concerns. This allows them to craft legal documents that support those objectives, whether it is preventing disputes among family members after death or providing for minor children before they reach adulthood.
A good attorney will also have organizational skills to manage their workload and materials. They will keep track of all client files and correspondence to make sure that nothing falls through the cracks.
A lawyer who specializes in estate planning will likely have a website that describes their experience with this type of law and what services they provide. They may even offer a free consultation to help potential clients gauge their fit for their practice. If they do, be sure to take advantage of this opportunity. A consultation will allow you to assess the attorney’s personality, professionalism and ability to meet your needs. It will also give you a sense of the firm’s culture and environment.
Have a Interview
As you narrow your list of potential estate planning attorneys, ask each for references from clients whose estates they’ve worked on. These can be an excellent way to gauge how much the pro charges and if their services would fit your needs.
Then, talk to each one in person about your estate goals. Your attorney should welcome your questions and provide answers that you understand (not legalese you can’t translate). They should make you feel comfortable discussing such an intimate and sensitive topic.
You should also ask about their education and experience, as well as whether they’re a member of any estate-planning organizations. These groups keep their members current on the latest legal statutes and planning techniques. The more years of experience an estate-planning attorney has, the better. That means they’ve seen many different situations and know how to best protect your interests. Also, they’ll have the expertise to minimize any tax obligations and help ensure that your documents are properly worded.
Your estate consists of everything you own, from your home and car to investments and life insurance. A thorough estate plan can also include documents that name a guardian to care for your children if you die or become incapacitated. It can also help you minimize taxes and support charities and causes that matter to you.
A good attorney will welcome your questions, explain things in terms you understand, and make you feel comfortable. If she doesn’t, consider looking for another attorney.
You should also ask your prospective attorney how she charges her clients. Some attorneys charge a flat fee for an initial consultation, while others use an hourly rate. You may be asked to provide a retainer upfront, which is used to cover the amount of time the lawyer will spend on your case. She may refund any unused amount or ask you for additional funds when the retainer is spent down. This is a standard practice in many firms.