Reading... What to Look For in an Estate Planning Attorney
Back to top

What to Look For in an Estate Planning Attorney

Finding an estate planning attorney can be a difficult task, but selecting the right one can take away the stress of planning for your future. By working with an estate planning attorney you can put into place exactly what will happen to your assets when you die, giving you and your family peace of mind at an otherwise stressful time. The question then is, what should you look for in an estate planning attorney?

Interview Questions to Ask at Your Free Consultation

Start by making a list of candidates you want to interview and then develop this list through personal referrals and referrals from companies you trust and have had previous dealings with.

Most estate planning attorneys will offer a free consultation. Be sure you understand the terms, such as how much time is allotted to the consultation and what documents you should take with you, so you can make the best use of your time. To select the right estate planning attorney for you, ask them the following questions:

Do you have experience in estate planning?

The answer should be yes. Some say that you should choose someone who has at least three years' experience dedicated to this area of law, but this is only a guideline and should not deter you from choosing someone with fewer years of experience in estate planning. Ask the attorney to describe their experience and to give examples of the type of work they have done, if possible, without violating any confidentiality privilege.

This question includes asking if the attorney has experience with the following estate planning tools and situations you may need:

  • A last will and testament and living will
  • Trusts, including irrevocable trusts and other types of trusts you may need for your particular and unique circumstances
  • Powers of attorney, including a durable power of attorney and medical advance directive
  • Estate administration
  • Structuring trusts to avoid the loss of assets in the event that you will need long-term nursing-home care in the future
  • Dealing with property in other states if you have property in more than one state
  • Dealing with any financial interests overseas

Also ask if the attorney has experience with someone contesting a will and defending it when a named beneficiary believes he or she should inherit more, or from those who are not beneficiaries and believe they should be.

Who will be my contact person?

The attorney should be your contact person. There should be at least one other contact, generally a paralegal, for times when your attorney is out of the office or when you have a simple question.

What are the fees and costs involved?

Many estate planning attorneys charge flat fees for different services. Others charge by the hour. Flat fees are generally divided into either simple or complex estates. Preparing simple wills and powers of attorney will cost less. When you need trust documents, however, the fees will increase. Costs will vary depending on the jurisdiction.

Keep in mind that a flat fee charged for the preparation of a document may not include other costs, such as copying documents, court filings, court appearances, telephone calls with you, and anything else needed other than the actual preparation of the document.

Will you update me periodically or do I need to contact you?

Your attorney should update you when there are changes to the law, and they should also periodically contact you to see if you have had any life changes that will influence your estate plan.

When making your final decision, compare answers from the attorneys you interviewed. Trust your intuition; first impressions are often right. Your estate planning attorney should have the experience and skills that you need, and you should feel comfortable with them and be able to trust them.

On the other hand, if you are overwhelmed by such a search, there are other options for assisting you in your estate planning. Do not put the task off until it is too late.