Choosing the Right Attorney

There are many decisions that must be made at every step of the estate planning process, not to mention financial, legal, and tax implications that affect every one of those decisions.  Due to the complexity of planning an estate, it is wise to seek expert help with making those decisions.

There is an adage in the law that he who represents himself has a fool for a client.  This is especially true in the area of estate planning.  We constantly see the devastating consequences for those who tried to plan their own estates.  Often the surviving family is left with confusion,  unnecessary probate, fees and taxes, and many other woes. Guardianship proceedings have to be filed that could have been avoided.  Estates that could have escaped probate now have to undergo its costs, delays and loss of family privacy.  Family members get disinherited and unintended heirs get the inheritance.  These  and many other  undesirable events frequently happen to the beneficiaries of those who try to do it themselves.

Even attorneys who practice in other areas of law understand this and consult with estate planning attorneys when it comes time to plan their own estate.  We  recommend that you follow their excellent example and obtain the help of a qualified estate planning attorney to plan your estate.


Frequently Asked Questions:

What qualities should I look for in an estate planning attorney?
How do I find the attorney my family needs and deserves?
What interview questions should I ask?
Who else do I need to consult?


What qualities should I look for in an estate planning attorney?

Finding a qualified estate planning attorney can be difficult.  Some people use the yellow pages, which are full of ads, but tell you nothing of the quality of service you will receive.  Some shop for price, but when it comes to obtaining quality estate planning services, as with most other things in life, you get what you pay for.  Others rely on a general practice attorney who tries to do everything, but that is like going to your general practice doctor for heart surgery!  Your family needs and deserves an attorney whose practice is devoted full-time to this special area of law.

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How do I find the attorney my family needs and deserves?

In order to find the best estate planning attorney for you and your family, you need to be prepared to do a little investigation.  Only attorneys who represent themselves as estate planning attorneys, and who are leaders in their field, should be considered.

Estate planning attorneys

  • will be active members in reputable estate planning organizations and associations.
  • will have published articles and books on the subject of estate planning.
  • will be sought as speakers and teachers by other professional groups.
  • will be knowledgeable of the latest planning strategies and techniques through specialty continuing education.
Be willing to interview the attorney you are considering to determine if he or she meets the above criteria.  The attorney should be willing to be interviewed by you without charge.

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What interview questions should I ask?

The following interview questions are key to helping you choose the right attorney:

  • Do you have your own estate plan?
A good estate planning attorney will have an estate plan established to protect his or her own family.  Avoid attorneys who do not personally believe in the services they provide to others.
  • How long will it take?
An experienced estate planning attorney should be able to have a comprehensive estate plan completed within approximately 30 days after being retained by the client to begin the work.  You should expect the signing date to be scheduled at the time the attorney is retained.
  • How much time will you spend explaining my plan to me?
Understanding your plan is critical.  The right attorney will spend the time necessary explaining the complex documents to you in detail  This explanation will typically take one to two hours.
  • What will you include in my estate plan?
Your estate plan needs to be prepared to meet your specific needs.  At a minimum, a comprehensive estate plan will include a revocable living trust, a "pour-over" will, financial powers of attorney, health care powers of attorney and directives (including HIPAA language), designation of guardians, and property agreements.
  • Will my documents be organized in a portfolio?
Be sure all your estate planning documents are assembled in logical order in a suitable binder with a table of contents.  This will help you find what you are looking for in an emergency.  I twill ensure that all of your estate planning documents are together in one location.  A will-organized portfolio will make it easier for your Trustee to understand and administer your estate.
  • Will my plan avoid probate?
The estates of those with no plan are probated!  The estates of those who plan with only a will will we probated!  If you plan with a trust but fail to title your assets in the name of the trust (funding), probate will be required!  Since only fully funded revocable trusts avoid probate, retain only an attorney who will help you make sure that your trust is fully funded.
  • Will you help me fund my trust?
Funding a trust means making it the owner or beneficiary of your property.  Avoid attorneys who offer to draft your trust but do not assist in the funding process.  A thorough estate planning attorney will offer to assist you in funding your trust.
  • Do you offer an annual maintenance program for my estate plan?
Regular review of your plan is critical because of constantly changing family circumstances, new laws, and new planning strategies.  The most dedicated attorneys are committed to keeping your estate plan up to date by offering a maintenance program that includes an annual review meeting.
  • How do you charge for your services?
After working with you to design the estate plan that best accomplishes your goals, an experienced estate planning attorney will be able to determine the cost you will incur to create and implement your estate plan.  Expect the attorney to quote an exact fee for the service to be provided.

Avoid attorneys who charge by the hour for estate planning services.  They will tell you their hourly rate but rarely commit themselves to the number of hours that they will bill you.  Such open-ended fee arrangements can result in the fee being much greater than you expected.  Hourly fee arrangements in the area of estate planning do not promote attorney efficiency.  We find that clients prefer to know the full cost up front rather than being surprised at the end with an unexpectedly large bill.

Who else do I need to consult?

Estate planning involves reviewing your financial circumstances today to ensure that you are prepared for tomorrow.  It requires that you and your attorney work with several other qualified professionals (including financial advisors,  accountants, and insurance professionals) to ensure that you receive the best plan for your circumstances.  For this reason, it is important that the attorney you select believes in working as part of an estate planning team of professionals and is capable of leading that team as it designs and implements your estate plan.

We believe that attorneys who possess these characteristics and offer these services can best provide you with the quality estate planning services you and your family need and deserve.