Estate planning is critical in making sure an individual’s finances are in order in the event of incapacitation or death. And with the right estate lawyer, anyone can have an assurance that their assets are passed on properly.
Although hiring a lawyer to assist you with estate planning is not mandatory, it can be necessary for many situations. Estate planning usually requires concise legal language and paperwork which could be complicated. Estate attorneys are specifically trained to provide you with guidance in preparing the necessary documentation and drafting comprehensive plans. Because this is a crucial decision for you, we have compiled some tips to help you choose the right estate attorney for the job.
Experience and Primary Focus
Although attorneys are experts of the law, not all are estate planning specialists. It is important to consult with a lawyer with a suitable expertise for the job. To help you in finding the right lawyer, there are several organizations you can check to verify one’s expertise. For example, the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys’ website can help you look for someone who is accredited in your home state.
The next thing you need to check to narrow down your options is an attorney’s experience and track record. Ideally, you should find an estate lawyer that has several years of experience under their belt. Preferably, find someone who already has had their prepared documents take effect after their client’s passing.
Meanwhile, there can be several factors that can limit you in choosing a seasoned attorney and one of them is the demand. Because of their expertise, there will most likely be plenty of clients choosing estate attorneys, driving their prices up. This leads us to our next point:
Terms and Fees
Depending on how complex your needs are and the estate lawyer’s experience, their terms and fees vary. When looking through your options for legal counsel, try to find someone with the right balance of experience and professional fees.
Many attorneys charge flat rates, but some bill by the hour. For example, they may charge a flat rate for standard services like establishing trusts or drafting wills. But in cases where they need to do more specific research, they may charge by the hour.
Lawyers may also have different billing arrangements depending on the type of work that needs to be done. It is crucial to ask about them during your initial consultation to negotiate or choose somebody who can give you better rates.
Comprehensive Estate Plan
There are plenty of estate planning tools available for you to choose from — wills, trusts, and insurance plans can all cater to your need. A comprehensive estate plan usually includes either one of them or a combination of these. Your estate attorney should be able to assist you in deciding which ones to choose and draft the best plan possible for you.
Because these tools have their specific guidelines and conditions, you want to choose a lawyer well-versed in all of them. They should be able to explain them to you in simple terms and help you make the best decisions.
For example, additional legal requirements are necessary for passing on foreign assets or properties. Similarly, in cases where you wish to pass on assets to stepchildren, there are deliberate steps required to undertake to ensure that they receive them. Especially in these cases, an estate lawyer can help you ascertain that these things aren’t overlooked. It is their job to inform you of any additional conditions you may need to satisfy. In doing so, they help you guarantee that your comprehensive plan covers everything that needs to be included.
Longevity and Relationship
Estate planning is not a one-time thing. You must recognize that hiring an estate attorney is an ongoing relationship. You will be disclosing personal details and sensitive matters to them, so you want to get someone you can trust. Choose one who listens to you, understands you, and prioritizes your needs.
Another thing to ask your lawyer is, “Do you conduct periodic reviews?” Not all estate attorneys conduct periodic reviews. Consider this scenario. After establishing your estate plan, you may have sold some of your property. You may even have divorced and remarried. These things may have happened all in the span of five years.
Change is the only thing that’s constant. Tax laws may change. Economies rise and fall. These changes may bring about depreciation to your assets. Some of these changes may even bring you better opportunities than what you had when you established your estate plan. Conducting periodic reviews can give you peace of mind.
These reviews are usually done annually or every five years depending on the size of your estate. Nevertheless, it is always good to find a lawyer who offers these services. This is so should there be any changes in your circumstances, they can make the necessary amendments to your existing plan. This is crucial, as these life changes can affect some aspects of your estate plan. You would want to ensure that you and your family or beneficiaries are protected in any eventuality.
Support and Accountability
As much as possible, choose someone with a reliable support team. You should look for a firm or a practice that can communicate with you constantly and give you timely turnarounds for documents and other requirements.
Another thing you can look for is a lawyer with insurance for legal malpractice. What this means is that the lawyer is protected from lawsuits that accuse them of negligence or subpar work. For the client however, it ensures that in the case of mistakes or malpractice, the insurance will cover any legal fees or settlements associated with the lawsuit. The insurance is put in place to protect both the lawyer and the client.
However, it is important to note that malpractice insurance is not a requirement in many states. Despite that, some firms and practices still have these set up to ensure accountability with their clients. A lawyer who is humble enough to admit that they need to protect their clients in case of malpractice is a good sign.
These are just some of the things you need to check when choosing an estate attorney. Take your time in selecting which firm or practice you will eventually hire. It’s best to decide only after considering all available facts.