Asking the right questions before hiring an estate planning attorney ensures you find a qualified legal expert whom you can trust, and with whom you feel comfortable discussing some of the most sensitive and emotional topics in life – your family, your assets and finances, and your own passing.
Essential Questions when hiring an Estate Planning Attorney
Most attorneys offer 30-minute, free consultations – and their answers to the following questions will make you more informed, and will help you establish who you feel the most comfortable with as you navigate the complex field of estate planning. Keep in mind that estate plans should be revisited and updated every couple of years or more, which means choosing the right attorney from the get-go results in a lifelong legal partnership.
Do you specialize in estate planning?
First and foremost, you want to hire a lawyer who is currently licensed in the state where you live. If you live here in California, you’re looking for a professional lawyer who has passed the bar exam and maintains his/her license with the state. However, the legal field is broad, so lawyers “specialize” in the same way that physicians or teachers do.
If you’re planning to get your estate trust in order, you should only work with lawyers who specialize in estate planning. This is the only way to guarantee they know all of the ins-and-outs require to set up a secure, legally-sound estate plan that insulates your family and other beneficiaries from unnecessary fees, fines, or taxes when the plan becomes active.
If you have a good friend who’s an attorney, but s/he’s not an estate attorney, we recommend asking your friend for a referral to an attorney who is experienced with estate planning. Otherwise, your friend may miss key elements – or be unaware of new changes or tax laws.
How long have you been practicing estate law?
Hiring an experienced lawyer is always best. The goal is to create an estate that is maintained and amended over time so that it is executed within the letter of the law, and so it stands up in a probate court a year, five years or even 25 years from now.
That requires an attorney with at least three to five years or more under his/her belt.
How often should one review their estate plan?
Any changes in your family dynamic (divorce, remarriage, death of a beneficiary, change in health status, etc.) should trigger an estate planning review. Similarly, we recommend reviewing your estate plan annually or every two- to three years. This ensures that everything is still on par with your ultimate wishes.
More often than not, you’ll find that some small revisions are necessary – for example a financial account that is closed or has been transferred, a child who opted not to go to college, a spouse with a medical condition that requires more financial support than planned, an unexpected inheritance or property acquisition, etc.
Can you help us prepare wills, trusts, advanced directives, life insurance, etc.?
There are many branches connected to the estate planning tree, and that includes things such as preparing advance medical directives, writing your will and putting certain assets or properties into a trust.
What is your cost or fee schedule for estate planning?
Like financial planners, different attorneys handle the billing for estate planning in a variety of ways. Some charge by the hour, period. Others charge a flat rate for the “essentials,” but will charge extra for additional services or required research. Knowing the attorney’s billing protocol ahead of time allows you to plan accordingly and prevents unpleasant billing surprises.
when hiring an estate planning attorney it’s important to know if there’s someone else in the office qualified to discuss your estate plan if they aren’t present?
There may be times where you need to ask a question or speak with your estate planning attorney, only to find that s/he is out of the office that day or on vacation. If that’s the case, it’s reassuring to know that a partner or a paralegal is qualified and capable of reviewing your will, trust or current estate plan and answering general questions you may have.
Ask Yourself the Most Important Question of All: Who do you feel most comfortable with?
Don’t forget that one of the most important questions of all is one you should ask yourself: Who do you feel the most comfortable working with? Even if you got a referral for the world’s best estate planning attorney, you should skip down to your second-best choice if that’s who makes you the most comfortable and at ease as you continue navigating all of the subjects, finances, logistics, financial components, etc., of the estate planning process.
Are you looking for a Bay Area estate planning attorney you can trust? Schedule a free phone consultation with Tseng Law Firm.