If you need an estate planning lawyer, you must find the right one for you. If you're wondering what that means, think about how personal your estate plan is to you. It protects you just as much as your loved ones, so finding the right estate planning attorney that can address your specific needs and goals is essential.
Unfortunately, though, people don't always take this into account. They sometimes seek the attorney they can meet with the soonest or even the one with the lowest rates. The problem with these strategies is that they put short-term issues – neither of which have anything to do with the estate plan itself – before the long-term consequences of the estate plan.
This can cause some serious problems if the attorney isn't very experienced or doesn't fully understand the client's objectives. In a worst-case scenario, the reality of impersonal or ineffective estate planning counsel might not come to light until one has died. At this point, it's too late to fix anything that the right attorney could have done correctly.
Ask Questions during the First Meeting
You can sometimes get a good feel for how things will go during the first consultation, but only if you use this meeting wisely.
If you think about it, your consultation is pretty much the attorney's job interview with you. They're the one seeking your business, so you should feel empowered to ask questions that can help you assess if this lawyer is right for you.
Below are some questions you might want to ask, but make sure you ask what's important to you above all else!
How Many Years Have You Practiced Estate Planning?
An attorney's experience matters! While all attorneys need to get their start somewhere, you might want to pick a lawyer who has several years of experience under their belt. With something like your estate plan at stake, no one will fault you for wanting to avoid mistakes caused by inexperience. That said, years of experience is no guarantee for quality.
Is Estate Planning Your Primary Practice?
What your attorney considers to be their primary practice can say a lot about how often they see clients with related legal issues. That translates to experience, which can be an important thing to consider. A caveat to consider, though, is that a tax attorney or business attorney who also practices estate planning (or vice versa) might be able to offer unique services for tax planning or business succession. So, you might end up being better served by a lawyer who also handles other issues that cross over with estate planning!
Do You Also Practice Probate?
You might want to lean toward an attorney who practices both estate planning and probate law. Why? Because that lawyer probably has some unique insight on how estate plans work when it comes time to put them into action. Such a holistic perspective can be valuable when you need to make sure that your estate plan will work as you intend it to work.
Will You Help Me Fund My Trust?
Sometimes attorneys help their clients establish trusts but leave them to figure out how to fund these entities on their own. This doesn't always work for every client, especially those who may feel intimidated by the process. If your attorney doesn't help with funding your trust, it doesn't have to be a dealbreaker – but at least asking the question lets you know whether or not you have more work to do to secure your assets.
What Is Your Fee Structure?/What Isn't a Flat Fee?
Creating your estate plan should fit into your budget, so it doesn't hurt to ask what things cost or how they're charged. Lots of attorneys offer many services such as will writing at flat fees. Other services might be offered at hourly rates. While some people prefer flat fees, you might prefer to be billed by the hour. If you can't get a cost estimate, at least make sure you understand how your attorney will charge for their services before agreeing.
Do Your Services Include a Regular Review of My Plan?
Estate planning shouldn't be a one-and-done process, but rather an ongoing one. You should review your estate plan when an important life occurs or at least once every year. Sometimes attorneys will include a complimentary annual review, and sometimes they charge a fee. In other cases, attorneys might not review plans at all.
Do You Charge for Plan Modifications?
If you wish to change your plan in the future, make sure you know whether or not there are additional fees, or if modifications are included in the original cost.
Building a Rapport with Your Attorney Is Important
If you decide that you feel good about hiring an attorney, you should remain mindful of the relationship you build with them. This can be done by simply asking yourself, honestly, if your attorney really feels like they're working for you.
You can ask yourself specific questions like these to assess how things are going:
- Does my lawyer respect me and my time?
- Does my lawyer follow my instructions?
- Does my lawyer seem interested in my estate planning goals?
- Does my lawyer seem like they want me to succeed?
- Does my lawyer offer options or solutions that I haven't considered?
- Does my lawyer follow through on what they say they'll do?
Questions like these can help you assess for yourself whether you've made a good choice in selecting your estate planning attorney or if it's time to consider someone else's help.
The Law Offices of Maria N. Jonsson, P.C. Are Is Here to Help
Whether you're looking for a new estate planning attorney or searching for the very first time, the Law Offices of Maria N. Jonsson, P.C. is eager to learn more about you and your estate planning goals. Our lawyer is a dedicated advocate for her clients, helping them create effective estate plans that include wills, many kinds of trusts, powers of attorney, and more.
If you're looking for the right attorney for you, schedule a consultation with the Law Offices of Maria N. Jonsson, P.C. to see why so many have trusted us with their estate plans.
Contact us online or call (424) 383-8445 now to get started!