Choosing an attorney to handle your estate planning takes some serious research and consideration. There are a number of things you will need to look at before choosing the right attorney for you.
One of the first things to consider is the attorney’s actual experience with the estate planning process. A law degree does not make your attorney an expert in one field or another – experience alone will do that and the more complex the field, the more experience is needed. A larger estate, for example, is likely to be more complex and requires someone with extensive knowledge in estate planning. And the only way to know is to ask.
Does the attorney devote their entire practice to estate planning and elder law? An attorney who “dabbles” in probate or Medicare isn’t going to have the same knowledge as one who has built their practice around these areas.
How will the attorney charge you for estate planning services? While some attorneys charge a flat fee, others charge by the hour; both methods have their pros and cons. If your lawyer charges by the hour you could end up paying for a lot of unnecessary charges, but you might not get the service you want if you are charged a flat fee. The best method is for an attorney to charge a flat rate for basic estate planning, and extra for any additional services required.
Find out in advance what services are included with the base fee. What is included may be limited so this is an important step. For example, the fee may only include a trust, without additional documents such as a will.
You will also want to choose an attorney that will give you a written agreement of how much they intend to charge you, and if there are extra charges. Make sure that the amount charged for extra services is spelled out in the agreement. It is also a good idea to include in the written agreement how much of the retainer will be returned to you if you don’t proceed with your estate planning.
Along with all of the practical aspects of choosing an estate-planning attorney, you should feel at ease with the attorney that will be handling your estate. When interviewing the attorney, does he or she seem like they know enough about estate planning to handle yours? Are they quick to get you through your consultation or are they taking the time to understand your particular needs? Make sure that the attorney is willing to explain anything that you don’t understand.
Finding the right estate planning attorney will make all the difference in how smoothly the process goes and how satisfied you are in the end.