How to Find the Best Wills and Trust Lawyer for You
One day at a party, Jane sees Joe looking worried. Jane approaches Joe to ask what is wrong. Joe tells Jane he needs to find an estate planning attorney. “But, how do I find the best attorney for me?” Joe laments. “I mean, it’s not like there is a book called “How to find the best wills and trust lawyer for you.” “So, where does one even start?”
Not All Attorneys Are Estate Planning Attorneys
News flash. Not all attorneys are estate planning attorneys. Say what?
I shudder at the times I have seen wills drawn up by non-estate planning attorneys. The documents are short and contain boiler plate language. The will’s terms could apply to any one. And, they do not adequately protect the person from future potential events.
When it comes to writing your will or trust, you need an estate planning attorney. After all, you wouldn’t go to your family doctor for heart surgery, would you? No, you would go see a surgeon. So why would you not apply the same logic to completing your will?
You see, an estate planning attorney is well versed in the current tax laws, estate planning issues and knowledgeable about the potential pitfalls that can happen. An estate planning attorney is concerned with writing a personalized estate plan. A plan that applies to your unique situation – not a plan for just anyone. This is because an estate planning attorney primarily concentrates their practice on preparing wills, trusts, health care powers of attorney and durable powers of attorney.
When it comes to getting your estate plan done, go to the right attorney – an estate planning attorney. Do not trust your future plans to just any old attorney. Use an estate planning attorney who writes wills and trusts on a regular basis.
Personality – Finding the Right Fit
You have your own unique personality. You need to find the right fit with an estate planning attorney. I tell potential clients when they call that you need to find an attorney whom you like and is similar in style to you. In fact, I jokingly tell people “I’m not everyone’s cup of tea.” But, it’s true.
I am a naturally happy, positive person. I am The Happy Lawyer after all. My clients tend to be positive, upbeat people. Happy people tend to gravitate towards happy people. Plus, my clients tell me they need happiness in their lives.
Lawyers can be scary people. Plus, we talk about scary things. You know, dying, becoming disabled, who will care for your children if you die before they become adults. Scary, right? I warned you.
However, some people do not want a happy lawyer. Some people want a more serious lawyer. In other words, they want a lawyer who does not make a lot of small talk. He or she just gets the facts.
Some people are more comfortable with an older lawyer. Others want a younger lawyer.
The important consideration here is you need to find someone you are comfortable with and can trust.
Reputation is Everything
When looking for an estate planning attorney, ask for recommendations. Read on-line reviews. People will tell you whether they had a good or a bad experience with a particular attorney. Trust me.
Is this attorney known for being trustworthy? Honest? How do people say they were treated by the attorney and the attorney’s staff? Were they made to feel welcome?
Do you have a financial planner or accountant? If so, ask them who they would recommend. Or, if you are already considering a particular attorney, ask them what they think of that attorney.
In other words, you want to find out if the attorney has a good reputation in your community.
Are You a Person or Just a Number?
What type of experience are you considering? Some lawyers like myself, offer a boutique experience. I like to spend as much time with my clients as they need. I never want clients to feel rushed. By taking time with my clients, I get to know who they are, what their concerns and worries are, what problems they have.
Now I am not suggesting other attorneys will not get to the appropriate information from you. I’m merely pointing out that some attorneys will allow a certain period of time for meetings. Some might even put a limit on how many drafts they will prepare.
If you are a person who needs extra time or wants more of a relationship with your attorney, you probably want a boutique style attorney. If you are a down to business, get in, get done, kind of person, you may not want a boutique style attorney.
Neither way is wrong. You just need to determine the right fit for you.
You need to know upfront what your costs will be for estate planning. A reputable attorney will have no problem stating his or her fee basis at the start of your relationship.
Some attorneys, like myself, work on a flat fee basis. That way, my clients know that every meeting, phone call, email, drafts and final signing are all included in one set price. There are no surprise charges. I even post my prices on my website as I believe in being transparent. When someone calls about estate planning, I tell them upfront my fees. I even offer to email them a copy.
Other attorneys will work on an hourly basis. You need to know how they bill their time. Do they bill in time increments; ie. 15 minutes; 25 minutes, etc.? If they do bill hourly, ask for an estimate of total anticipated costs. An experienced attorney should be able to fairly accurately tell you the approximate cost based on prior estate plans they have done. If they do bill hourly, how often do they send out invoices?
Some attorneys like myself, require a retainer before any estate planning drafting is started. My practice is to require fifty percent (50%) down and the remaining balance is due at signing. Other attorneys may want a certain amount or even the full amount paid in advance. Others may not require any payment until the work is completed.
Your legal bill for estate planning should never be shock or a surprise. You should know what your approximate cost will be at the front. If an attorney shies away from quoting an approximate cost, I would be leery. A reputable estate planning attorney should not be hesitant about quoting you a price. After all, you need to know in advance if you can afford that attorney’s services or not.
Ask what your estate planning includes. What documents will the attorney prepare? Will you receive additional materials? Do you need to bring your own witnesses?
Never assume. Otherwise, you may be in for sticker shock.
Hopefully this article helped you learn how to find the best wills and trust lawyer for you.