So, you’ve finally gotten to the point where you’re ready to start planning your estate, and you want some help. You’ve gathered up all your paperwork, have some ideas about what you want, and now you need an estate planner.
An estate planner, also known as an estate planning lawyer, is someone who can help you draw up all the vital documents you need to ensure that your loved ones are taken care of after you pass. How do you even begin to find someone to help you in a critical moment?
How to Find an Estate Planner
- Compile a List of Candidates. Ask family members, friends, and other professionals for recommendations. You should particularly consider asking your financial planner, accountant, or another lawyer you’ve used for recommendations, since they will have worked with this person more than once. However, a family member or trusted friend’s recommendation can also be a good idea. Another option is to check in with your state and local bar association, which should have lawyers listed by their specialty. They can set you up with brief phone calls with prospective lawyers.
- Do Your Research. Once you have a solid list of names, try to winnow it down a little. Do you want someone who specializes in family businesses? A whiz at trusts? Some lawyers will have board certifications or other marks of professional expertise in areas that matter to you. Visit lawyer’s and firm’s websites to see more about them.
- Conduct Phone Interviews. You should be aiming to interview at least three lawyers in person, so this is another good way to winnow down the list. Find out if the lawyers will offer free brief consultations, and the time limits for these.
- Meet in Person for Consultations. This part of the process is less of a right answer and more of a gut feeling. You will be working closely with your estate planner with sensitive, intimate information. Having someone you feel like you can trust will be a critical part of the process.
Questions to Ask an Estate Lawyer
- How much experience do you have? If you have a relatively simple estate, you can save money with someone with less experience (who probably has a cheaper rate!). However, if you already know your estate is looking like it will be complicated, find someone with many years of experience in the field.
- What is the balance in your work between estate planning and other types of practice? Many estate planners may have experience working in real estate law or other areas. However, finding someone who truly specializes in estate planning can be helpful.
- How much of the work will be done by you vs. other people in the firm? Again, this is an answer that matters based on how complicated your estate is. If you have a more simple estate, having associates complete the work should be no problem, and a cost-saver to boot. If your estate is more complicated, you are going to want the experts on it!
- Do you have malpractice or professional liability insurance? You should seriously reconsider working with someone who does not have liability insurance. Mistakes, particularly with your estate, can be costly, and could leave your heirs without an inheritance. Having liability insurance will mean that your hard-earned assets will be safe.
- What will this cost? Be sure to ask the attorney to clearly explain the cost structure, and what is covered within it. Having a good idea of what you’re buying will keep you from receiving a nasty surprise when the invoice comes!
- Do you have any references? While attorneys are bound by attorney-client privilege, some of them will have clients they’ve asked to speak as references, or have client testimonials.
Going through this list of steps and questions with your prospective attorneys should give you an idea of who you would like to hire. If you have more questions, don’t be afraid to reach back out and follow up.
Once you find the attorney you’d like to work with, reach out, be sure to get a contract or a document that outlines the services provided, and be sure to read over it carefully!