What To Look For In An Estate Planning Lawyer

what to look for in an estate planning

When we meet with clients for the first time, we consider it the first of many meetings throughout their lifetime. Together, we’re forging a partnership. So, in addition to getting your estate plans in place, your attorney should be someone you feel comfortable being transparent with no matter how sensitive or personal the information may be.  

10 Tips to Find the Best Estate Planning Lawyer For Your Needs 

So, while credentials, experience, and niche expertise are valuable, so are your gut instincts. Here are ten tips on how to find the right estate planning lawyer for your needs. 

Go beyond geography

Sure, it is convenient to find an estate planning lawyer who is conveniently located near you. However, finding the right attorney for the job is the priority. Here in the Bay Area, there are plenty of attorneys available, and the best one for your needs or the one you trust most to meet with again over the ensuing years may live in another town. Once you’ve met in person and found your preferred attorney, you can set up secure online meetings for convenience’s sake. 

Get a referral from an attorney

Have you worked with an attorney in your past? Active and engaged attorneys network with other legal professionals – even outside our chosen area of law. So, if you know a family law or personal injury lawyer, ask them if they have an estate attorney they recommend. 

Ask friends and family

Word-of-mouth is a decisive vote for competent attorneys. Checking out an attorney’s website is helpful, but knowing how they work with clients is even more beneficial. Ask friends and family if they have an estate attorney they enjoy working with or if they’ve had a negative experience (so you can cross that one off the list of potentials). 

Be wary of online directories

Education, current licensure, and competence have nothing to do with getting a name in an estate attorney directory. All that is required is that the attorney pays a tidy sum of money. You could pay the directory’s fee and have your name added to the list if you wanted to. You are better off checking with bonafide websites, like The State Bar of California pages that help the public find certified legal specialists. 

Don’t rely on local bar association referral hotlines

While you can trust the state bar’s website, local bar associations like the Alameda Bar Association have referral hotlines. We are one of the law firms listed there, so it is legitimate to a point. However, all any lawyer has to do to be listed is pay the required fee and be in good standing with the California bar.  

In other words, these referral hotlines can throw out some names and contacts for estate lawyers in your area, but they have no idea how good (or not) that lawyer is. You’ll have to do further due diligence to determine that for yourself. 

Verify the attorney focuses on estate planning?

Even if you love your family law attorney and s/he’s willing to help you with estate planning, it’s not the best idea. Legal professionals choose our niches based on our interests and callings. So, just as a qualified estate planning attorney would never take on a family law or tort case, you should only work with a lawyer specializing in estate planning, wills, and trusts if that’s what you are looking for. 

Are you looking for specialist estate planning support?

Some of us provided even more highly specialized services, such as focused expertise in probate or an emphasis on guardianships or conservatorships for individuals with special needs. If you are looking for specific support along those lines, speak to prospective attorneys to learn more about their preferred practice areas. You may even find that a lawyer you contacted from an online search is kind enough to direct you to a colleague s/he feels could serve you better. 

Read what they publish about estate planning and related subjects

Many legal professionals write columns for local papers, keep a current online blog with free information about estate planning and related topics, or may even have published books or journal articles. All of these are signs the attorney is actively engaged in their professional and are credible in their field. Reading their posted and published content is an excellent way to get a feel for their work and approach. 

Ask about their education, experience, and industry involvement

As with any university, some law schools are better than others and harder to get into at the outset. Law schools are ranked in tiers, from Tier 1 to Tier 4, with Tier 1 being the best. This isn’t to say that you can’t be an exceptional attorney if you graduate from a Tier 4 school, but it is still worth considering. Here at Tseng Law Firm, attorney Sabrina Tseng graduated from the University of San Francisco School of Law. Our Of Counsel, Heather Reynolds, graduated from Georgetown Law School. Both are Tier 1 Law Schools and ranked in the nation’s Top 10 law schools. That is something we’re proud of. 

You also want to work with an attorney with some experience under their belt, so look for one who has practiced on his/her own for at least five years or more. It is also good to see that they are actively involved in industry-related organizations such as The State Bar of California, Trusts and Estates Section of the State Bar of California, East Bay Trust & Estate Lawyers, or the WealthCounsel. 

Conduct at least three “interviews” with potential estate planning lawyer

Yes, you are the boss here. The estate planning attorney has the expertise, but you are the one who is doing the hiring as the client. Treat your initial consultations as “interviews” to learn more about the prospective lawyers. To keep things consistent, use this guide on What to Ask Before Hiring an Estate Attorney. 

If you ask each of your three to five prospects the same questions, you’ll know exactly who you want to hire by the time you leave your final consultation. Naturally, it will be the one who blends competence and expertise with a compassionate heart and a comfortable rapport. 

Are you in the process of looking for an estate planning lawyer or probate specialist? Schedule a consultation with Tseng Law Firm. (510) 835-3090.