What to Look for When Choosing an Estate Planning Attorney
Estate planning is a crucial puzzle piece of financial planning—yet both are tasks that many Americans try their best to ignore. Procrastination—particularly when dealing with our eventual demise—is understandable yet can be a huge mistake.
Think about this: Do you really want to leave your loved ones struggling with grief as well as dealing with no instructions from you on how you want your estate settled?
Not only can leaving your estate in limbo result in family squabbles and headaches, but your assets could also end up going to those you would not want them to go to. Further, if you have minor children and do not have a Will that names a guardian, your children could end up being raised by people you would not have chosen.
When you work with a trusted estate planning law firm to help you put together an estate plan that is uniquely you, you are essentially giving an invaluable gift to your loved ones. If you are looking for an estate planning attorney in Nevada, California, or Utah, contact John Park Law.
What Qualifications & Experience Does an Estate Planning Lawyer Need?
So, suppose you have decided that it is time to put your estate in order—what should you look for when selecting an estate planning attorney?
- Does the estate planner have experience and knowledge? When you are interviewing estate planning attorneys, don’t hesitate to ask for references, then follow up with a few clients to ask about the quality of the planner’s work. Don’t be embarrassed to ask about the attorney’s estate planning experience, so you can determine whether he or she typically deals with estates similar to yours. Some estate planners manage highly complex business estates, others cater to families and small businesses, some focus mostly on elder law, and others deal mostly with high-net-worth individuals. Specialized experience and knowledge of estate planning laws in your state are critical.
- Is estate planning the attorney’s primary focus? Generally speaking, you are much better off with an estate planning attorney who mostly does estate planning and those areas of law that are related. While some family law attorneys engage in estate planning “on the side,” they are unlikely to have the training, experience, and knowledge regarding estate planning that you need and expect.
- What tasks can an estate planning attorney help me with? An estate planning attorney can help you do much more than simply prepare your estate plan. If you are trying to navigate a Power of Attorney situation, your estate planner can help. If you are dealing with the estate of a loved one who has passed away, your estate planning attorney is a crucial resource. Your estate planning attorney can help you prepare a Will, set up a Trust, protect your assets from creditors, set up a guardianship, advise on tax-beneficial plans, help designate beneficiaries, create plans that will reduce or avoid the complexities of probate, establish a Durable or Medical Power of Attorney, and much, much more. Whether you are starting from scratch, or want to update an estate plan, getting professional legal help is the best choice.
- Does the estate planner offer an estate plan that is highly customized for you and your situation? Your estate plan, just like you, should be unique. As such, it must be customized to precisely address your estate planning issues. Your estate planner should never offer a “generic” estate plan, for the same reason you should never attempt to create an estate plan from online generic documents. Your situation requires specific estate planning procedures that an experienced estate planner will determine and address.
- While cost is a factor, it’s not the only factor. The amount your estate plan will cost will significantly depend on how complex your planning needs are. Fees for a simple Will can cost a couple of hundred dollars, while a more in-depth Will can cost several hundreds of dollars. When you add in a Trust, the cost increases, however, a Trust can help save on estate taxes and avoid the cost of probate. A comprehensive estate plan that includes advance directives, a Will and Trust, and a Power of Attorney can run from $1,500 and up, depending on the complexity of your estate. When you are speaking to potential estate planners, ask how you would be charged—a flat fee that includes either a certain time period or a set number of visits, or an hourly rate. If an estate planning attorney charges an hourly rate, ask about how long the process will take. While you certainly want to save money when you can, you may be better served by hiring a planner with substantial experience, even though it may cost you more.
- Will you work directly with the attorney throughout the process, or will you be passed on to a legal assistant after your initial consultation? Some estate planners meet with you initially, then you work with a legal assistant from that point on, while others will be with you from start to finish. It is ok to have a legal assistant assist the estate planning attorney, but it is important to you that the estate planning attorney is involved throughout the process. Make sure you get the answer to this question upfront.
- Will the attorney follow up with you, or can you easily contact the attorney after the documents are signed with additional questions? You may have questions you’ve forgotten to ask after your estate planning documents are signed. If so, can you call and ask these questions, or will you be charged an additional fee?
- Will you have an ongoing relationship with your estate planning attorney when your life circumstances change? Estate plans should never be a “one and done” task. Your life changes in ways you might never have considered. Babies are born, loved ones die, you move, you lose a job or get a better job. All of these life changes can have a significant impact on your estate plan. It is important that you take a look at your estate plan at least every five years, or whenever you have a major change in your life. Your estate planning attorney should discuss this with you, setting up a method of reviewing your estate plan as needed.
Looking for an Estate Planning Attorney?
In addition to the above questions, you might want to ask how you will communicate with the attorney (phone, in-person, email, text) and how you will receive updates regarding your plan (i.e., should you call, or will you receive regular feedback on the progress of your plan). You might also ask about any special certifications held by the estate planning attorney, which can show an interest in ongoing estate planning education, but not as critical.
Our experienced estate planning law firm can help you organize your estate and your life through careful estate planning. We know that your family and your situation are unique. That’s why we meet with you personally to help you learn more about your individual options. Call us today for a consultation and review, or fill out our confidential contact form.
John Park is a highly experienced attorney in estate planning, probate, business law and guardianship to help people organize the elements of their lives through careful estate planning and asset protection measures.