What should you look for in selecting an estate planning attorney?
At a minimum, you should look for the following attributes when selecting an attorney to help you with your estate plan:
- The majority of the attorney’s practice is focused on estate planning or areas related to estate planning such as probate, elder law, and/or business succession planning.
- The attorney is old enough to have considerable “life experience”.
- There’s a good personality fit between you and the lawyer.
- The attorney works with your financial planner, accountant, and other professionals, as needed.
- The attorney provides good and timely communication.
Estate planning – done correctly – is quite complex. The availability of Wills on the Internet, and lawyers who list estate planning as one of their many practice areas, give the false impression that “anyone can do it”.
Estate planning is one of the more complex areas of law because it involves knowledge of Wills, Trusts, probate (a/k/a estate administration), trust administration, asset protection, Medicaid law at the state and federal level, taxes (e.g. income taxes, gift taxes, estate taxes, capital gains taxes), retirement plans, real estate, life insurance, long-term care insurance, succession planning for small businesses, incapacity planning, pre-nuptial agreements, post-nuptial agreements, planning for non-traditional families such as gay partners, protection of the inheritance of children from a first marriage when a second marriage is involved, and on and on.
Every person’s circumstances and legal needs are specific, so estate planning attorneys need to be able to navigate those particulars to assist clients in meeting their goals. Typically, clients “don’t know what they don’t know” regarding estate planning, which makes it even more important that your attorney is knowledgeable, can set up an estate plan that is custom-tailored for you, and can explain how the plan meets your goals.
Estate planning involves family relationships in addition to money. Understanding the beauty and messiness of life is but one way that an attorney’s life experience enables the attorney to offer you guidance.
For example, what could go wrong and how can your estate plan attempt to avoid that situation? How does one best encourage cooperation among family members?
A personality fit is important because you want an attorney who genuinely cares about you, your family and your estate. Your attorney will need to ask you about your debts, assets, and personal matters that you might not normally share with anyone. You need to feel comfortable sharing that information with the attorney that you select because he or she needs the whole picture to understand your goals and your situation to be able to help you achieve your objectives. And, you want an attorney who will patiently explain what may seem complicated to you.
Also, you should find an attorney who will work with other professionals – such as your financial planner and/or accountant – to develop an estate plan that is custom-tailored to your needs and coordinated with actions being taken by the other professionals.
Nobody relishes thinking about his or her eventual incapacity and/or death, but thoughtful estate planning is essential for helping your loved ones cope after you’re no longer around.
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Disclaimer: This Blog is for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice. If you have questions, please seek the advice of an attorney licensed to practice law in the state where you live. Wittenburg Law does not expressly or implicitly warrant the accuracy or reliability of any of the Blog’s contents. An attorney-client relationship is not formed by reading this Blog. If you are interested in Wittenburg Law’s representation of you, you must contact Wittenburg Law for a determination of whether your matter is one for which Wittenburg Law is willing and able to accept representation of you.