How to Choose an Estate Planning Attorney That's Right For You

We know that estate planning is not exactly everyone's cup of tea, making how to choose an estate planning attorney quintessential to your estate planning journey. There aren’t many people who look forward to it, because this commonly avoided but necessary step in financial planning makes us ponder what might happen after we're gone. No one wants to think about their death and its aftermath, but we all need to make sure our estate is in order so that we can avoid a negative impact on family and loved ones. To ensure your worldly assets go where you want them to go, you need to plan for these inevitabilities. There are, however, steps you can take to make the process a little less painful, and one of those steps is to find an estate lawyer to help ensure you have everything in order.

An estate planning attorney will save you time in research as they will know precisely what steps you need to take and how. When you seek the assistance of someone who knows the process backwards and forwards, everything becomes easier and quicker for you.

That said, not all estate lawyers are created equal. If you've decided to use the services of an estate lawyer to help you make your final plan, it's not as simple as picking the first one you find. There are several factors to consider for how to find a good estate planning attorney and what to think about before making a final selection. We've put together this easy guide for how to choose an estate planning attorney so you know what to look for and how to choose an estate lawyer that is right for you.

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What is an Estate Planning Attorney, and What Do They Do?

An estate planning attorney is a lawyer who is licensed to practice law in your state and understands the laws both federally and at the state level with a specialization in estate law. Their considerable understanding of the law focuses on those that affect estates, wills, and power of attorney, and this knowledge will make planning your estate relatively painless and easy. Choosing this route saves you the frustration of interpreting "legalese" and untangling the sometimes complicated rules, processes and to-do lists that aren't as clear to the layperson as they will be to an attorney. Your estate lawyer will ensure no loose ends are left undone, and everything is executed to the letter of the law to reduce the likelihood of any problems with your estate. With an estate lawyer, the guesswork is taken out of estate planning.

Estate lawyers, who are also known as probate lawyers, are invaluable assisting with the following services:

  • Setting up any trusts you may desire
  • Appointing your beneficiaries
  • Writing your will
  • Organizing guardianship for your dependents
  • Helping you to minimize taxes on your plans
  • Giving a trusted loved one powers of attorney
  • Helping create strategies that can avoid probate
  • Outlining what is to be done with corporate assets
  • Setting up a personal directive
  • Executing your wishes when the time comes
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How to Find an Estate Planning Lawyer

Now that we understand what an estate lawyer is and what they can do for you, it's time to learn how to find a good estate planning lawyer. Where do we begin when we want to find an estate lawyer that suits our needs? We all have specific concerns that a legal professional should understand when planning our estate. For instance, maybe you want to ensure your children have a trustworthy legal guardian named in your will, or perhaps you need to determine what happens to property you own in more than one state.

Knowing what you need assistance with beforehand will help you decide on an estate attorney, but there are other factors to consider as well. There are hundreds of estate lawyers to choose from in some areas, while in others, there may not be very many. Some lawyers will have specialty areas, while others might cover law more broadly. So, how to choose an estate planning attorney that is right for our needs, and where do we start? For most people, finding an estate planning lawyer is going to be an easy process if you keep these considerations in mind:

Geographic location Considerations

When considering how to find an estate planning attorney, remember that each of the 50 American states has unique laws, and estate law is no different. When you're ready to plan your estate, you need to verify that any attorney you find to assist is well-versed in estate law in the state in which you live. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that your lawyer has to be local. A lawyer may reside out of state but carry a license to practice law in your home state. Many highly respected law firms have satellite offices in multiple states and can serve you just as well as a local-based attorney.

However, a particular convenience comes with a lawyer who resides and has an office nearby. You'll be able to meet in person, signing documents will be more accessible, and you may know others who have been satisfied with the work of the lawyer you choose. As such, you can search for nearby attorneys, and if you find one that suits all your needs then you don't need to expand your search. However, if you struggle to find a local lawyer to help with your estate planning, reaching out to lawyers in other states is a perfectly workable solution, providing they can practice law in the state in which you live.

Ask for Referrals and Recommendations

When it comes to searching for professional services of any kind, nothing is better than a strong recommendation from someone you know and trust. Your loved ones are a great place to start for how to choose an estate planning attorney because you'll be able to trust your friends and family to steer you in the right direction. Ask everyone who fits that bill if they know of any estate planning attorneys they would recommend. Your parents may have some recommendations for you, and if you choose a lawyer who has already worked successfully with family members, you know you're choosing someone who can get the job done well.

Don't stop at family and friends, however. Ask your doctor, accountant, financial advisor, coworkers or any other lawyers you may already know. You can also tap people you know who are well-organized financially or consistent planners. Professionals, especially those who work in law or finance, are likely to know several potential estate planning lawyers for you to choose from. Gathering referrals from the people you know is a great place to start your search. You can jot down any recommendations you get and narrow down your list as you go through the other considerations listed here.

Be Cautious of Hotlines and Directories

While internet directories and hotlines may offer a good deal of convenience and make themselves sound pretty helpful, they are often set up as a quick cash grab rather than a useful website. They are not a good choice when it comes to how to find a good estate lawyer. You'll find that listings aren't as thorough as you expect and may even be outdated. Hotlines will offer to answer your burning legal questions for a low fee but come with limits and are designed to be a sales funnel. In other words, they'll give you just enough information to lead you to believe they can be helpful for how to choose an estate planning attorney, and then ask for more significant amounts of money to continue.

An excellent estate planning lawyer won't need to go to these lengths to drum up business. Like any professional, an estate attorney's work will speak for itself, and happy clients always tell their friends and family about the excellent service they received. Bypass these legal directories and estate planning hotlines because you run the risk of paying for something of little or no value and may come out the other side still requiring an estate planning lawyer. It's always best to find an estate planning lawyer on your own than to get caught in some referral-based sales funnel that only wants to pocket quick fees.

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How to Select an Estate Planning Attorney

Now that you have the names of a few estate planning attorneys on a shortlist, it's time to narrow down your choices. But how do we do that? How can we choose an estate planning lawyer we'll like? What are some essential criteria for selecting the right lawyer? The first step, of course, is to speak to the lawyers on your list. Give each of them a call. You may even find that some of the lawyers on your list offer free consultations, which can be a helpful tool in determining if they are the right attorney for you. Once you're talking to them, get a feel for how they operate and how well you might work together. Sometimes, this step helps eliminate a few choices as you find some may be retired, others might not be practicing estate law anymore, and others might already have a full client roster. In choosing your lawyer, your preference will become easier as your list shortens. As you make your way through the names you've written down, you'll want to clarify a few key points with any potential attorney you're going to choose. These points to consider are:

Consider the Estate Lawyer's Focus and Specialization

Not every lawyer who offers estate planning services will specialize in estate planning. It may just be one of the many services they offer. Of course, this doesn't mean they can't provide excellent services, but lawyers specializing in estate planning are more likely to know the intricate ins and outs of estate planning law. When you're searching for your estate planning attorney, try to select one who specializes in estate law. Law is an ever-changing area of expertise as legislation is changed, adapted and dropped all the time. As such, an attorney who focuses primarily on estate planning law is more likely to keep up to date with any changes to rules and regulations that will affect your estate planning. They will likely have had experiences or run into issues before, and they can use that experience to lead you down a smooth estate planning path without too many hiccups. They'll also be efficient in their work, as they'll have to do less research and take less time to get the job done. During your estate planning, that can save you money. So, ask them if they specialize in estate law, or look for any articles, books or blogs they may have published on the topic to find out just how well-versed in estate law they are.

Check to See If the Estate Planning Attorney Carries Insurance

When your estate planning attorney carries malpractice insurance, it's an excellent indicator that they care about the needs of their clients. Malpractice insurance protects an attorney in the event a client makes a malpractice claim. Most lawyers will face a malpractice claim in their careers. Insurance ensures that a client can recoup any lost funds should a malpractice claim arise. While it benefits the lawyer and his clients to ensure malpractice claims don't happen, it's also beneficial to come to terms with the fact that they can still occur. As such, it is always good practice to protect the attorney's interests and his clients with malpractice insurance. Most states do not require legal professionals to carry malpractice insurance, so it's going to be up to you to check that the attorney you choose does have it. In some states, it is a legal requirement for a lawyer to inform their clients that they are operating without insurance, but don't wait for them to tell you. Ask them so you can be sure. When you know they are insured, you know they want the best for you and their practice.

Inquire About Estate Planning Attorney Certifications

All lawyers require a license to practice law in each state they operate. Estate planning attorneys can also have relevant certifications and designations to let you know they do their job well. An estate lawyer may be an Accredited Estate Planner (AEP), holding a certification issued by the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils. This designation is only awarded to those attorneys who meet the stringent qualifications, including their professional reputation, character, level of specialized knowledge, experience, and education. A Chartered Trust and Estate Planner (CTEP) is a certification issued by the Global Academy of Finance & Management and is awarded to attorneys who show ethics, experience, education, and specialized knowledge. The American Bankers Association grants a Certified Trust and Financial Advisor (CTFA) designation to legal and financial professionals who show a high level of experience and who take and pass an exam to prove their knowledge. These professional designations indicate extensive experience in estate planning, extraordinary expertise and industry-recognized reputation and ethical business practices. If you can find estate planning attorneys with any or all of these certifications, you can rest assured that you're in good hands.

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Additional Questions to Ask Estate Planning Attorneys when Interviewing Candidates

You'll need to find out more about an estate attorney's expertise and business practices, and some additional questions can give you that information. In your initial chat with your contenders, be sure to get answers to the following questions:

  • How long have you practiced estate law? This question will give you a good idea of their experience, and you can follow it up by asking if their experience was exclusively in your state. If not, ask how long they have been practicing estate law in your state specifically. A lawyer with lengthy experience focusing on estate law in your state will know the finer details of the law, which will be to your benefit.
  • Are you able to help plan wills, trusts, life insurance and all other end-of-life plans? Some lawyers may have limited experience with some aspects of your overall estate plans, so make sure the one you end up selecting is well-versed in every part of the plans you want to make.
  • How often do you review estate plans? Our plans might change or need to be adapted as life rolls forward. Your estate attorney should be willing to conduct reviews regularly. You may pay an extra fee for this service, but it won't break the bank, and the payoff is invaluable.
  • Are you able to execute my estate plans? Some attorneys can help you create and file your estate plans, but when it comes time to execute those plans, they don't offer those services. Ensure the lawyer you select can execute your estate plans.
  • What is your take on revocable living trusts? A revocable trust is flexible, which means the terms can be changed. However, they don’t protect the assets within from creditors or taxes the way irrevocable trusts do. They can also be more expensive as frequent changes and adjustments run up your lawyer’s billable hours. Some lawyers will push revocable trusts for this reason. However, your lawyer should be open to choices that may be better for you other than revocable living trusts.
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Understand and Consider Fees When Choosing an Estate Lawyer

At this point, you should have a good idea of who the right lawyer is for you and your estate plans, but there is one final variable to understand before making your selection. That variable is, of course, their rates. Some attorneys charge by the hour, while others offer some services at a flat rate. You can also encounter lawyers who will have a mix of both flat fees and hourly rates. Make sure you understand how much you will be charged and how you will be billed before choosing the right attorney. You should be able to have a good grasp of how much an estate planning attorney will cost you and budget for this expense. While asking about rates, be sure to inquire about what is included in these rates and fees so that you don't end up with a hefty bill full of surprises. Be wary of an attorney who is quick to quote. A thorough attorney will likely want to sit down with you and learn more about what you need before offering you a detailed quote. The best choice, financially speaking, is usually an attorney who offers you a flat fee once they fully understand you and your needs.

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Make Sure you Choose the Right Estate Planning Attorney For You

Now, that you know how to choose an estate planning attorney that will meet your needs, it's time to make your final selection. You're going to be spending some time with your estate planning attorney, and you'll be talking about sensitive topics and issues that mean a great deal to you. As such, you should make sure that you feel comfortable with the attorney you choose. You should feel your lawyer is hearing you and fully understanding your wishes. You shouldn't walk away feeling pressured, and your lawyer should be attentive and clear. When you seek out the services of any lawyer, you're doing so because the law can be challenging to interpret for the layperson. It defeats the purpose if you end up with an attorney who speaks in jargon and is unclear and confusing.

Here at Everdays, we offer clear and easy-to-understand services that will help you plan your estate and final wishes. You are in the driver's seat when you plan online with Everdays – which means your desires are heard, understood and executed. The best part about our end-of-life planning is that your account to get started is completely free.

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Our content is created for educational purposes only. This material is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or investment advice. Everdays encourages individuals to seek advice from their own investment or tax advisor or legal counsel.


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