At last, you’re decided—you want to secure your future, protect your property and loved ones, and finally get an estate plan. What now, though? How do you actually kick-start the estate planning process?
While I have previously acknowledged in one of my blogs that anyone is free to DIY their estate plan (I’m talking about this one here!), I MAY have pointed out (*cough, cough) that the more prudent choice is to get professional help to minimize risks and problems later on.
That said, what are the most important considerations in choosing your estate planning attorney? Here are some guidelines to remember and things you should take into account; I have narrowed them down for you!
So what does an estate planning lawyer DO?
Before deciding whom you will entrust your estate plan with, it is important to know what exactly your lawyer will have to do in the process—to check if she and her skills are able to measure up to your expectations and deliver.
As I have pointed out in one of our discussions on the different estate planning myths, an estate planning lawyer is one who comes up with a client’s comprehensive estate plan (emphasis on ‘comprehensive’ because estate plans are more than just a will!) based on the client’s needs, circumstances, and preferences, as well as the requirements of the law.
More than just the obvious task of drafting documents, she is one who should be able to communicate consistently and well with you, give sound advice in relation to estate planning, and apply her knowledge of the law in coming up with your plan. This information should be able to help you narrow down your list of potential estate planning attorneys.
But, like, are they any good?
Given that a good estate planning lawyer should be knowledgeable on laws relating to estate planning, it is crucial that you choose one who actually practices in the field. I understand that this may seem pretty obvious to even say, but remember that there are lawyers who do not work under a specific branch of law—these are your jack-of-all-trades kind of lawyers. (Quick note--in Missouri, the bar association does not grant specialty certification. Therefore, a lawyer here cannot claim to specialize in any given area of practice.)
Your best bet is to engage the services of an attorney who focuses on estate planning. It’s a complex field full of nuances, and you’ll want someone knowledgeable and dedicated to guide you through it.
Does the glass slipper fit?
To be able to find your “perfect match,” have a conversation with them and do your research. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You and your estate planning attorney should “click”--you need someone you trust and feel at ease with. Remember, she and you would be working a lot together, so comfort and confidence are vital!
Don’t give up your latte just yet. . .
Okay, the real deal. You are likely wondering about the investment for estate planning. This is something you shouldn’t leave out when interviewing your would-be estate planning lawyer! First, ask whether she charges a flat rate for an estate plan or uses traditional hourly billing. Flat fees tend to be a more practical and budget-friendly method, especially because this includes no surprise fees and additional charges, which is not usually true for hourly billing (think: charges for calls/emails). .
Second, ask about payment arrangements, such as what’s due when, what payment methods are accepted, and whether she offers payment plans that fit your needs. It’s important to find the right fit for you!