Selecting an Estate Planning Attorney

What criteria would you use in selecting an estate planning attorney? Most people have little more to rely on than their own gut, and for good reason. We rely on professionals for their expertise, otherwise we would probably do it ourselves. So it’s a bit of a leap of faith, and unfortunately in the case of estate planning professionals, we won’t know if they are worth their salt until after we’re gone!

To assist you in selecting an estate planning attorney we’ve compiled the top five questions you should ask your attorney before engaging her services:

  1. What percentage of your practice is in trusts and estates?
    The answer to this question should be about 100%. If it’s not 100%, the other areas of practice should be closely related, e.g. elder law. There are many attorneys out there who claim to practice estate planning as part of their general practice. The fact is the law is complex, and it is difficult enough to become competent in a particular field, let alone stay relevant.  You wouldn’t go to your family practice doctor for brain surgery, neither should you go to your general practice attorney for something as specific as estate planning.
  2. How do you define estate planning?
    There’s probably no easier way to distinguish the novice estate planning attorney than to listen to the response to this question. A major red flag would be a response that focuses on drafting. Your estate planning attorney should provide you counseling, not mere drafting. Elements of a good definition would include controlling your assets while you’re well, planning for your disability, and transferring your wisdom.
  3. What is your process for working with me to assure that my plan works?
    Now this is a loaded question. It assumes not only that the estate planning attorney understands that plans that work are plans that meet your goals, but also that he is able to create a plan that works. The question also explores whether the estate planning attorney’s practice is process driven. Plans that work do not happen by accident, rather they are created through a series of steps and actions – a process.
  4. What is the level of involvement of my family in the planning process?
    Most people are driven to begin estate planning because of their loved ones – after all, “there’s not much in it for me after I’m gone.” Additionally, it is usually the family members that play a key role in an estate plan’s execution. We believe family involvement is one of the keys to an effective estate plan. Family members should be prepared for wealth reception, and be trained to conduct their role in your plan. This should occur well before they are needed, as there’s no more difficult time to learn a new role than while grieving.
  5. How do you charge for your services? Specifically, how much will my estate be charged after I’m gone?
    The bottom line is that your estate planning attorney should disclose to you up front what will be the costs to you and your estate.