Five Tips For Selecting an Estate Planning Attorney

Choosing an estate planning attorney could be considered as important a decision as where to live, where to go to school, and who to marry, so it is a decision that should be made deliberately with the best information at hand.  To this end, the following are 5 useful tips on what to look for in selecting an estate planning attorney, from an estate planning attorney’s own perspective:

  1. Specialization:
    Perhaps the most important rule in choosing an estate planning attorney is to choose an attorney who specializes in estate planning. The old adage, “Jack of all trades, master of none,” is just as applicable in the field of law as in any other profession.  There are so many different specialties in the law and a consumer should be wary of an attorney who claims to be an expert in every field.  Moreover, the complexity of estate law in particular virtually mandates that the attorney focus in trusts and estates for the attorney to be able to provide competent legal advice.
  2. Do Your Research:
    As with any important purchase, a consumer is best advised to do some research in advance.  These days an online presence is key to an attorney’s credibility.  The online presence can provide a number of clues as to the focus, experience, and ability of the attorney.  For example, does the attorney have a website?  If so, does the website contain useful information on estate planning?  Are there blog posts?  Has the website been recently updated with the newest developments in the law?
  3. Watch Out for Tunnel Vision:
    When the time comes to actually meet with the attorney for an initial consultation, you will want to be sure that the attorney takes your whole financial and family picture into view.  A good estate plan requires a comprehensive analysis of the tax consequences of the plan (both estate and income tax), the members of your family, whether any beneficiaries have special needs, the nature and existence of non-probate assets, retirement assets and beneficiary designations, among other facts.  The attorney’s function at the outset is to compile as much information as possible on all relevant fronts so the best possible plan can be formulated.  Some indications of the estate planning attorney’s attention to detail are in the thoroughness of the consultation, and whether he/she utilizes a detailed client questionnaire or a client-goals form.
  4. Beware of the One-Size-Fits-All Approach:
    One occurrence to be avoided is the one-size-fits-all approach to estate planning.  One particular iteration is the “trust pusher” who recommends the use of living trusts (also known as revocable trusts) for every client regardless of whether a trust is the best approach or that there may be a simpler, less expensive alternative.  In some instances, an attorney may pull out the same old form without customizing it to meet the unique needs of the children or beneficiaries named in the document.  The attorney instead must adhere to the principle that every client is different and every situation calls for a unique solution.
  5. Up Front With Fees:
    Attorneys who practice regularly in the field of estate planning will have a fairly clear idea of the fee near the outset so one should expect the attorney to be able to give an estimate before he or she is engaged.  By the same token, the attorney should not be able to quote a fee until after having a thorough initial consultation about your situation.  If the attorney is quoting a fee before knowing exactly what is entailed, one should be skeptical of the fee and may be surprised when the fee is larger because more was involved than the attorney initially anticipated.