You’ve finally decided to stop procrastinating and get started on protecting your family and property. You realize doing this right means getting some professional assistance. But how do you choose a the right estate planner for you and your family?
Here are 10 questions to ask any potential estate planner:
- Do you provide a free consultation? You should be able to get a free, no-obligation consultation with your estate planner before deciding on who to hire and the work to be done. This way you can spend some time getting to know the person who will be protecting your family. You should feel comfortable with your chosen estate planning attorney before hiring them or agreeing to any work.
- Do you have a relationship-oriented practice? You will want an estate planning attorney that focuses on building a relationship with their clients. A relationship-oriented practice is one that seeks to keep the attorney-client relationship ongoing rather than simply moving on to the next client.
- Do you have any special experience or training with taxes? Taxes show up in several different ways with estate planning. Estate taxes are well known but income and property taxes can also occur, depending on how the estate plan is structured. For the best results, your estate planning attorney should have a Masters in Tax Law (LL.M.) indicating they received additional legal training about how taxes impact their clients.
- Are your fees flat fees? Estate planning can be time-consuming, so you will want to avoid a attorney who charges hourly for their services. Flat fees can give you a fixed price so that you know what you are going to pay. If the attorney takes longer than expected to prepare your estate plan, the attorney should be eating that cost, not you.
- What do your fees include? What gets included will vary greatly. Some low-cost attorneys only provide the most basic services while additional services can be added for a substantial price. Beware an unusually low price because it can be an indicator that your plan will be incomplete or have hidden costs.
- Can you provide a custom-made plan? You will want to make sure your plan is custom-made for you and your family. No family is exactly like yours. They don’t have the same structure, family dynamics, assets, goals, fears, or future. That’s why you should seek to have your plan custom-made rather than using a generic one-size-fits-all plan.
- Do you make sure my assets are properly titled? Your estate plan will only be effective if assets are properly owned and titled. Many estate planning attorneys leave it to the clients to make the necessary changes. Your attorney should make sure your assets are properly owned and titled from the first moment of your plan’s existence. This should include making sure deeds are properly recorded with the county (and experience that can sometimes be frustrating, even for attorneys).
- What sort of ongoing support do you provide? You will need support for your estate plan in the future. You might buy a new house. Or you may become a grandparent. Or someone might leave your family by death or divorce. Or the laws might change. All of these things require a review of your estate plan to make sure it will still function as intended. Your estate planning attorney should be there to answer your questions or review your situation to determine how your estate plan will be impacted.
- What happens when things change in my life? Hopefully, your estate plan will not need to be used for many years or decades. That’s why you will need to make sure you are able to call your estate planning attorney for advice, even if it is years later.
- How do we get started? Figure out what sort of information your estate planning attorney will need before the first meeting. Nothing is worse than finding an attorney you want to work with but are delayed because you did not have the right information to begin.
Knowing the answers to these questions will allow you to learn about your estate planning attorney and determine whether this is the right one to protect you and your family. It will help you find the attorney who will be there when you need them and that they won’t just give you a pile of expense, worthless paper.