Most likely somebody will refer you to an attorney. How was their experience? Do you have similar circumstances and goals as they? Was the attorney responsive when asked questions? Are they known for practicing Estate Planning? If not they can refer you to an attorney that does. Are they a member of any professional organizations such as one of the national associations of estate planning attorneys, or a local estate planning council?
Many attorneys claim to be qualified in estate planning. Since drafting a simple will is often considered estate planning, the claim can be misleading. Many plans require more sophisticated and complex strategies. A useful screening mechanism is to ask the attorney what percentage of the practice is spent in estate planning, and on what other areas he or she focuses. An experienced estate planning specialist will typically spend at least 50% of his or her time in estate planning. The more numerous the areas of practice, the less specialized the practitioner, and the less time he or she will have to keep up with constant change.
Surprisingly, one indicator may be the fee that are being charged. Those who treat estate planning as “selling wills and trusts” tend to be peddling one-size-fits-all plans at high volume and low prices. The experts have high fees for a reason. They are counseling-oriented rather than document-oriented, and will spend considerable time in getting to know and understand your situation. Their approach will be to design a plan customized for your specific needs and desires. There are few things more costly than the negative results provided by a low fee attorney who neglects counseling.
What Questions Should I Ask an Attorney When I Interview Him or Her?
- Do they have expertise in the area for which you would like to plan?
- What percentage of their practice is dedicated to estate planning?
- What is the typical client profile of the attorney?
- Are they a solo practitioner? If so, what is their succession plan if something happens to them unexpectedly?
- How much time do they need to complete your estate plan? What steps are involved in the planning process?
- What will be needed to be provided for them to make the appropriate recommendations?
- How are their fees determined? Do they charge a flat fee or bill hourly? Can they give you a specific quote or “not to exceed” amount? Does the fee include re-titling of assets as required by the plan?
- What are the ongoing costs for updating and maintenance of the plan? What costs are involved with the eventual settlement of the estate and implementation of the plan?
- Do they belong to any professional organizations or have any special credentials in the field?