Estate Planning Lawyers
What to Consider When Hiring an Estate Planning Lawyer
Many people feel uncomfortable discussing end-of-life wishes with someone outside their family. Simple estate planning documents, such as a last will and testament, may not require the assistance of an attorney. However, sometimes an attorney can make a huge difference. Examples of situations that may benefit from legal guidance include when you have complex assets, potential estate tax liability, numerous or diverse beneficiaries, or an unconventional family structure. Crafting a thorough estate plan can give you the peace of mind that comes from knowing that your wishes will be respected. A properly devised set of instruments also can prevent conflicts among your loved ones after your death.
Deciding who is the right lawyer for you can be challenging. A basic Google search can be a good place to start, but this should be only a first step. Google searches will lead to a wide range of results, including many paid listings that do not necessarily reflect the skill of a lawyer or their aptitude for your case. Similarly, you might gain useful insights from talking to friends or family members who have hired an estate planning attorney, but the right fit for them may not be the right fit for you. Each situation is unique. Here are certain guidelines that can help you knowledgeably research and compare attorneys.
Background and Experience
You should hire a lawyer who has substantial experience assisting people in situations similar to yours. They should know how to devise an estate planning strategy that is tailored to your circumstances. For example, if you want to leave property to a loved one with a disability, you should retain an attorney who knows how to craft a special needs trust that will preserve your loved one’s eligibility for government benefits. If some of your most substantial assets include homes or investment properties, you should hire a lawyer who has handled real estate issues. If you own a business, you should retain a lawyer who knows how to develop business succession plans. Some attorneys may have relevant board certifications or memberships in professional organizations. They may have received awards or other formal recognition of their legal prowess.
In general, you should aim to hire an attorney without a history of serious disciplinary issues. Information about an attorney’s professional record can be found by searching for them on the state bar website for their jurisdiction. You may want to review the details of any disciplinary action to get a sense of the events leading to it. Some violations are less significant than others. You may not want to automatically remove an attorney from your consideration based on a very minor infraction if they are currently in good standing.
On the other hand, a record of serious violations should be a red flag, even if the attorney has achieved some good results. You do not want egregious mistakes by your attorney to prevent you from securing the future for your loved ones that you envision.
Reviews and Testimonials
Reviews by previous clients can give you a sense of what it would be like to work with an attorney. You may find insights into their personality, level of professionalism, and communication skills. Client reviews can be helpful even if the details of your situation are different from a previous client’s situation. However, beware of very brief reviews that are harshly negative or effusively positive without providing details. These reviews may not be trustworthy.
Sometimes an estate planning lawyer will discuss their most notable successes on their website or blog. You should not assume that your estate plan will look exactly like the estate plan that the attorney devised for a previous client. However, a history of positive results for people in roughly similar situations to yours can be a promising sign. You may also gain insight into the matters in which an attorney performs most impressively if many of their strongest results involve the same type of issue.
Some estate planning lawyers offer a free consultation to prospective clients, while others provide a consultation for a reasonable fee. The consultation helps the client and the attorney decide whether they are the right fit for each other. Even if you are impressed by an attorney’s credentials and achievements, you should not choose them on that basis alone. Instead, you should make sure to work with a lawyer whom you can trust and who relates well to you. You should feel that your lawyer is personally invested in your situation, rather than treating you as just another business opportunity. Ideally, you should set up consultations with several attorneys before deciding whom to hire.
Bringing a list of questions to the consultation can help you decide whether an attorney is the right fit. For example, you may want to ask the attorney whether they would be willing to conduct periodic reviews of your estate plan. This can help you keep up with any significant changes to the law, your assets, or your personal life, which might require adjustments to the plan. Also, you should listen to how the attorney explains the tools that may be available to you. They should be able to articulate the strengths and drawbacks of each option in a way that is coherent and accessible to a non-lawyer.
Fees are another important issue to address at the consultation. Some estate planning lawyers charge an hourly rate, while others charge a flat fee for certain types of services, such as preparing a basic will, power of attorney, or guardianship appointment. You are more likely to pay an hourly fee if you have substantial or complex assets and need to devise an estate plan with several types of intricate instruments. If you want your lawyer to periodically review your plan, as discussed above, you also will need to pay a reasonable fee for that service. While contingency fees are occasionally used in litigation over an estate, they would not be used during the estate planning process. Any fee arrangement should be clearly set out in the representation agreement so that you understand your obligations.
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The Justia Lawyer Directory is designed to simplify the process of researching, comparing, and contacting attorneys in your city, county, or state who fit your legal needs. Start exploring our listings of estate planning lawyers near you today.