Do I Need An Attorney For Estate Planning?
Yes, you should have one.
An estate planning attorney is a type of lawyer who, through years of mentoring, continuing legal education and experience, understands how to advise clients on getting their affairs in order to prepare for the possibility of mental disability and eventual death.
What an Estate Planning Lawyer Does
• Estate planning doesn’t begin and end with a last will and testament. An attorney specializing in this field will also draft living trusts, develop a plan to mitigate or avoid estate taxes, and work to ensure that your life’s savings and assets are safe from your beneficiaries’ creditors after your death.
• He can prepare power of attorney and health care directives, arranging for someone to take care of your affairs in the event you should ever become mentally incapacitated.
• He can help you avoid guardianship or conservatorship issues if you need someone else to look after your affairs.
What Qualities Should You Look for in Your Estate Planning Lawyer
• A general practitioner may not have the experience and specialized knowledge to assist you with your unique family and financial situations. Look for someone who devotes his practice to this area of the law.
• You should feel very comfortable sharing intimate details of your life and your concerns with him so your estate plan doesn’t fall short of your expectations and needs.
• Your estate planning attorney should be well versed in and up to date with the laws of your state. Otherwise, your estate plan could ultimately be deemed invalid by the court.
What You Should Expect to Pay for Your Estate Plan
Be prepared to pay somewhat higher legal fees to have your estate plan created, maintained, and updated by someone who specializes in this area of practice. You’re paying for the attorney’s expertise accumulated over years of working with a variety of different clients and taking a multitude of continuing legal education classes. As the old saying goes, “You get what you pay for.” Your estate might stand to lose far more money in the long run than the cost of paying a qualified attorney now. If estate taxes come due that could have been avoided, or if a contentious probate process drags out after your death, incurring even more court and legal fees, your loved ones may wish that you had simply spent the money to plan ahead instead. Then, of course, there’s peace of mind.
Reasons to Hire an Estate Planning Attorney
When considering if you need to hire an estate planning lawyer, consider this estate planning is serious business. One wrong word or one missing signature can change the entire intent of a will or trust. Aside from this, the reasons listed below should be enough to convince you to go out and find and hire a qualified estate planning attorney to draft your estate planning documents.
• Estate Lawyers Are Necessary Since State Laws Rule Estate Plans: State laws are very specific about what can and can’t be in a will, trust, or medical or financial power of attorney; who can and can’t serve as a personal representative, trustee, health care surrogate or attorney in fact; who can and can’t be a witness to a will, trust, or medical or financial power of attorney; and what formalities must be observed when signing a will, trust, or medical or financial power of attorney. For example, in Utah, a personal representative must either be related to you by blood or marriage or, if not, then a resident of the state. Time and time again I see wills of Utah residents that designate a friend or attorney from out of state as the personal representative. This non-resident, non-relatives simply can’t serve, and in fact, won’t be allowed to serve, in Utah. Working with a qualified estate planning attorney will help you to avoid this kind of simple and yet costly mistake.
• Buyer Must Beware: The old Latin saying, “Caveat Emptor,” or “Buyer Beware,” certainly applies to estate planning. If you think that you’ll be saving a few dollars by using forms found on the internet or in a do-it-yourself book to prepare your estate planning documents, then your family will be in for a rude awakening when they learn that part or all of your will, trust, or medical or financial power of attorney isn’t legally valid or won’t work as you had anticipated. Thousands of dollars will then be spent by your loved ones working with a qualified estate planning attorney after the fact to fix your mistakes.
• Estate Lawyers Can Help Sort out Complex Family or Financial Situations: Take a look at your life and your assets to see if you fit into one or more of the following categories:
You’re in a second (or later) marriage
You own one or more businesses
You own real estate in more than one state
You have a disabled family member
You have minor children
You have problem children
You don’t have any children
You want to leave some or all of your estate to charity
You have substantial assets in 401(k)s and/or IRAs
You were recently divorced
You recently lost a spouse or other family member
You have a taxable estate for federal and/or state estate tax purposes
If one or more of these situations apply to you, then you’ll need the counseling and advice of an experienced estate planning attorney to create your estate planning documents. Otherwise, it may be a probate lawyer and your state’s department of revenue and/or the IRS that will receive the largest chunk of your estate.
How to Find an Estate Planning Attorney
Searching for a lawyer who can help you put together a good estate plan may seem like a daunting task. But with a little help, you should be able to find several qualified lawyers to choose from.
Your financial advisor should be a great source of information for you, including finding a qualified estate planning attorney in your area. Many advisors view estate planning as an essential part of their clients’ overall financial goals, and so these advisors have one or more estate lawyers that they’ll refer their clients to depending on each client’s individual needs. If your advisor hasn’t approached the subject of estate planning with you, be sure to bring it up with your advisor. Also, go ahead and ask your advisor who did his or her own personal estate plan the answer may be just who you’re looking for.
Many estate lawyers turn to accountants for help with estate, trust, and income tax issues. Thus, chances are your accountant can recommend one or more estate planning attorneys in your area to put together your estate plan. Likewise, many accountants seek out estate planning lawyers for their clients since accountants have direct access to their clients’ financial information and family situations which warrant the need for an estate plan. And go ahead and ask your accountant who did his or her own personal estate plan – the answer may be just who you’re looking for.
Chances are a lawyer you’ve worked with in setting up your business, buying your home, or reviewing a contract will know one or more qualified estate planning attorneys in your area. And lawyers are always quite happy to refer their clients to other lawyers who don’t practice in their area of expertise because this will promote referrals back the other way. Aside from this, go ahead and ask your lawyer who his or her own personal estate planned since many non-estate lawyers won’t even attempt to create their own estate plan.
Each state has a bar association and lawyers located in a certain city or county may also have their own bar associations. Many of these associations maintain a list of their members and their practice areas, and some even offer certified referral services to the public. Check your local telephone directory or online for a referral service in your area.
Many lawyers, including estate lawyers, advertise through various means, including in print, on the radio or on TV. All states regulate attorney advertising, so only ads that pass the strict scrutiny of the state bar association are allowed. This ensures that the attorney isn’t making false claims or promising unattainable results.
This may not work for you, particularly if you live in a large city, but in smaller communities, the court clerks know all of the local attorneys and which ones are easy to work with and which ones the judges like. Practicing in a small town can allow you to have a good working relationship with the court clerks and judges; it’s easy to earn referrals this way and is considered a high compliment. This list is really only a starting point and doesn’t even attempt to address the vast amount of information you can find about professionals, including estate lawyers, on the internet. Sometimes, however, too much information is just that, and so you need to stick with some basic methods.
How to Choose the Best Lawyer
Choosing legal services is like choosing any other product or service: the wise consumer conducts thorough research before making an informed decision. Once you secure several lawyer referrals with expertise in the appropriate practice area, you should carefully research each candidate (for tips on how to find a good lawyer, see How to Find a Lawyer). Below are five steps to choosing the best lawyer for your legal needs.
Conduct Candidate Interviews
One of the best ways to assess a lawyer’s legal ability is by interviewing them. Most attorneys will provide an initial consultation (usually an hour or less) at no charge. Below are a few questions to consider:
• What experience does the lawyer have in your type of legal matter?
• How long have they been in practice?
• What is their track record of success?
• What percentage of their caseload is dedicated to handling your type of legal problem?
• Do they have any special skills or certifications?
• What are their fees and how are they structured?
• Do they carry malpractice insurance? If so, how much?
• Who else would be working on your case and what are their rates?
• Do they outsource any key legal tasks for functions?
• What additional costs may be involved in addition to lawyer fees (postage, filing fees, copy fees, etc.)?
• How often will you be billed?
• Can they provide references from other clients?
• Do they have a written fee agreement or representation agreement?
• How will they inform you of developments in your case?
Keep in mind that a higher fee does not necessarily equate with a more qualified attorney. Consequently, a rock bottom fee may signal problems, inexperience, or incompetence.
After meeting with the lawyer, you should ask yourself the following questions:
• Are the lawyer’s experience and background compatible with your legal needs?
• Did they provide prompt and courteous responses to your questions?
• Are they someone with whom you would be comfortable working with?
• Are you confident they possess the skills and experience to handle your case?
• Are you comfortable with the fees and how they are structured?
• Are you comfortable with the terms of the fee agreement and/or representation agreement?
Lawyers know the skill and reputation of other lawyers. Attorneys may be able to provide information about a fellow lawyer that you may not find in a book or online, such as information about a lawyer’s ethics, competence level, demeanor, practice habits, and reputation.
Before hiring any lawyer, contact the lawyer disciplinary agency in your state to confirm that they are in good standing as a member of the bar. For an online listing of each state’s lawyer disciplinary agency, review this directory of lawyer disciplinary agencies. You should always check references, especially if you located the attorney through the Internet.
Estate Planning Attorney Free Consultation
When you need legal help with an estate plan – whether that is a will, trust, power of attorney or health care directive, please call Ascent Law LLC for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506