While there are certainly ways to do estate planning without a lawyer, for most people hiring an estate planning attorney makes the most sense. Estate plans can get complex fast, and even fairly straightforward estates can feel overwhelming if you’re not trained in the area. Working with an estate planning attorney can take the pressure off you.
Estate planning attorneys have extensive knowledge of state statutes. It’s their job to stay on top of the law as it changes and make sure your estate plan is in compliance. Plus, estate planning attorneys have considerable experience in the field, understanding every angle and every question you should consider.
There is much you can do to make sure your loved ones are well cared for. Working with a professional can give you the confidence that your plan is in line with your goals and wishes.
How to Find an Estate Planning Attorney
You’ve wisely decided to work with an estate planning attorney, but now you’re in the business of finding and selecting one. Follow these guidelines to choose an attorney that’s the right fit for you as you plan your legacy.
- Take advantage of employee benefits. Some employee benefit plans offer legal services, so start by checking with your company’s human resources department to see if such an offering is available to you. Like an insurance plan, your employer’s legal services might give you access to an attorney and/or cover certain fees and expenses associated with establishing a will.
- Word of mouth is your friend. Talk to your trusted friends, family and coworkers for recommendations. Turn to the other professionals you work with – think your financial advisor, accountant, and insurance agent – for their input. You can also turn to your local estate planning council or bar association for guidance. Then research online and read reviews.
- Do your research. If you come across an attorney’s website that claims they practice in all areas of law, dig deeper. Though a firm might cover many areas of law, your estate planning attorney should be highly specialized. State and national laws are constantly changing, and you want to work with someone who is regularly dealing in that area of legislation.
Setting Up Your First Meeting
Many attorneys offer complimentary consultations, so you can gauge if you’re a good fit. Take advantage of this opportunity. At the consultation, whether it be in person or over the phone, be sure to ask questions such as:
- What does the planning process and timeline look like?
- Will I work with you exclusively on my estate plan or other members of your team at any point?
- What are your fees?
- What if I have questions about my estate plan during or after its creation?
- Do you execute the estate plan?
- What is your experience in estate tax planning?
- What do I need to do to prepare for our next meeting?
The purpose of this consult is for the attorney to find out your needs and for you to understand the planning process and logistics and determine your comfort level with the firm. Do not expect to walk away from this meeting with specific advice – their expertise is not free.
After you meet the attorney, ask yourself these questions:
- Did I feel at ease during our meeting?
- Would I feel comfortable discussing sensitive and personal issues with them?
- Did they answer my questions to my satisfaction?
- How efficiently did they communicate?
- If they said they would follow up with me, did they?
You should feel confident and comfortable in your relationship with your estate planning attorney. If you’re not, keep looking for a better fit.
During the consultation period or after you have hired an estate planning attorney, you will likely fill out a questionnaire that assesses your needs. The topics addressed in the questionnaire might include but are not limited to:
- Retirement or pension plans
- Assets (i.e., real estate, cash, investments, and valuable property such as vehicles)
- Business interests
- Beneficiaries who require special care
- Previous marriages and prenuptial agreements
- Preexisting wills or trusts
- Life insurance policies
- Anticipated inheritance, gifts or settlements
Estate Planning Costs
Your estate planning attorney’s fees will depend on their experience level and the complexity of your situation and the services you require.
While some attorneys will charge a flat fee for certain services – expect to spend at least $500 for a basic will, for example. Others will charge per hour. Some might combine the two fee scales, charging a flat fee for more basic services and charging per hour for anything beyond that.
If an attorney charges you a flat fee, know that they’re simply calculating their hourly rate by the number of hours they expect to spend on your case based on your consult. This can help you compare rates among attorneys who use different fee structures.
When analyzing multiple attorneys’ fees, make sure you’re considering the differences in their experience and in the services they’re offering you to get a more accurate picture and a fair comparison.
Remember, your goal shouldn’t be to find the least expensive attorney. Your goal should be to find an attorney with the right experience and expertise to put together a thorough, legitimate estate plan that brings you peace of mind.
Talk to Your Financial Advisor
Your financial advisor may have recommendations for an estate planning attorney near you who they know and trust. Talk to yours today or let us match you with a Carson Wealth financial advisor.