Crafting an estate plan may not require the assistance of an attorney if you have the time and energy to investigate your options and devise the necessary documents. If your estate does not have many unorthodox beneficiaries and will not be liable for estate tax, you probably can handle this process on your own. You may fear that a document will not be valid if you do not retain a lawyer to prepare it for you, but this is not true. Also, most standard estate planning documents are not technical or complicated. Preparing an estate plan on your own may allow you to consider your options with a clearer mind, free from influence by an authority figure.
Rule of Thumb
A good rule of thumb to determine whether you might want to hire a lawyer is whether or not you think that your estate plan could be challenged, such as if you leave your spouse out of your will.
If you do retain a lawyer, you should be aware that they may charge a substantial hourly fee. However, this may be justified if you have valuable or complex assets.
Finding an Estate Planning Lawyer
Some lawyers specialize in estate planning or even in certain types of estate planning. You will want to hire a specialist if you have a complex issue, such as an issue involving taxes, government benefits, or beneficiaries who are foreign nationals. The laws governing trusts and estate taxes change frequently, so your attorney will need to be up to date on the precise federal and state requirements. If you are just looking for basic advice on relatively standard estate planning instruments, you may be able to cut costs by hiring a lawyer who is not a specialist.
As with any lawyer whom you hire for any legal matter, you should find an attorney who is a good personality fit for you. They should be compassionate to your situation and sensitive to your needs. The process should remove rather than add stress, unlike many other legal matters. You may be able to get a referral from a family member or a personal acquaintance whom you trust, or from a business or organization in which you are involved. If you have retained a lawyer for a different type of legal matter in the past, they may be able to refer you to a lawyer who handles estate planning. Any of these sources likely will produce better results than a generic referral from a bar association or lawyer referral service. Regardless of how much you trust your referral source, however, you should make sure that you personally feel comfortable with the lawyer and confident in their abilities.
To make sure that you do not face unanticipated costs, you will want to put your fee agreement with the lawyer in writing before they start providing services to you. They should give you their hourly fees and an estimate of the time that they expect to spend assisting you.
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Using a Lawyer to Check Your Work
If you have already created your estate planning documents, you may feel anxious about whether you have actually met all of the requirements to make them valid. To put your mind at ease, you may be tempted to consult a lawyer to briefly review them. Many attorneys will not undertake this type of work, however, since it does not pay much compared to handling estate planning from the beginning. Also, they may not want to place their seal of approval on a document that they did not help create, fearing malpractice claims down the road. To be fair, it is often hard to step into this process near its completion and thoroughly understand its nuances. You should recognize the limitations inherent in this situation and make sure to have a candid conversation with any attorney whom you are retaining for this purpose.