How Do I Choose an Estate Planning Attorney?

Finding the right attorney to assist you in designing an estate plan can be a daunting task.  Some people believe that every attorney is capable of providing competent counsel and others shop for price rather than quality legal services in this complex area of law. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for.  The selection of an estate planning attorney should be done with care and based upon more than assumptions or cost.

Here are some practical tips to use in order to select a qualified attorney who has the necessary experience to work with you on your personal estate plan:

-         Only interview attorneys whose practices are dedicated to estate planning.  None of us would hire the family doctor to perform heart surgery and a general law practitioner is not qualified to assist in planning your estate.

-         Many lawyers earn their living by probating estates.  Ask if the attorney will help you avoid probate so that you can avoid the public disclosure of your assets as well as the delays and costs of that process.

-         Hire a lawyer that is a good fit for you and one who you like and trust.  A lawyer who you have a good relationship with and who is your trusted adviser is most important.

-         Find out if the attorney will quote you a fixed fee for the estate planning that will need to be performed.  Although some very complex estates may require hourly billing or a mix of hourly and fixed fee billing, most plans can be handled with a fixed fee that provides you with certainty and not an unexpected surprise.

-         Find out whether the attorney offers an annual maintenance or annual review of your estate plan.  Attorneys who are dedicated to estate planning and to their clients, normally provide ongoing annual services in order to ensure that your plan does not become outdated.

-         Ask about the law firm’s estate planning process and find out whether they can prepare your estate planning documents within a month’s time.  For an attorney who knows the law and has established efficient services, in most instances this is a reasonable time frame.

-         Ask the attorney if they have completed their own plan and find out if they have a Revocable Trust.   Interview only attorneys who believe in trust centered plans as demonstrated by preparation of their own trust based plan.

-         Look for an attorney that provides comprehensive estate planning services.  A comprehensive plan should include more than just a Revocable Trust.  It should also include financial powers of attorney, medical powers of attorney, advance health care directives (living wills), HIPPA authorizations, trust certifications, pour over wills, deeds funding the trust and other business and property agreements.

-         Ask what the office procedure is for handling client requests and returning phone calls or responding to e-mail.  An office that is slow in responding to you will not provide excellent legal service.

-         Find out if your estate planning documents will be neatly assembled in an estate planning portfolio so that the documentation is readily available to you and your family.

-         Ask your attorney if they are a member of Wealth Counsel or some other legal resource that will regularly provide updated information about changes in tax law, IRS issues, governmental regulations, new laws and decisions.  Dedicated estate planning lawyers will be members of professional organizations that help them stay on the cutting edge.

An attorney who possesses these characteristics will provide excellent service to you and your family throughout the years and will provide you with the advice and assistance that you deserve.