A GUIDE TO FINDING THE RIGHT ESTATE-PLANNING ATTORNEY
Some of these tips may be obvious but others are not. Here's how to cut through the noise and find the right attorney for you.
1. Look for an attorney who focuses on estate planning or estate planning and elder law*- not one who has a long list of practice areas and does wills on the side. Just because your family law attorney did a great job with your divorce doesn’t mean he or she should draft your will. Ask what percentage of the attorney's practice is devoted to estate planning.
2. Ask about Experience. Find out how many years of estate planning/elder law experience the attorney has.
3. Look for recommendations. Ask for recommendations from family and friends and read on-line testimonials but don't rely exclusively on testimonials. Testimonials, especially on-line ones, can be driven by many factors, including the personality of the poster and whether the attorney focuses on online marketing. Because of these factors, the number of testimonials may not be a good indicator of the attorney's estate-planning skills.
4. Has the Attorney written a treatise or other publication? One way to gauge an attorney's legal knowledge is to find out if they've written any publications. Generally, a certain level of experience and knowledge is needed to write about a subject.
5. Call to test the waters. Make a short list of possible candidates and call the firms on your list to get more information. Find out if they have information you can obtain to learn more. Is there an initial consult fee? Can the initial fee be waived or folded into the fee if you decide to move forward with your planning at the initial consult? (You can learn a lot about a firm by the way you are treated on the phone.)
6. Schedule a Consultation. If you are happy with the way you were treated on the phone, consider scheduling an in-person consultation. An in-person meeting will confirm or deny whether you have found the right attorney for your estate planning. At the meeting, be on the lookout to determine:
1) do you feel comfortable enough with your estate planning attorney to reveal personal things, like your financial matters and your family relationships and dynamics; and
2) does the attorney have the necessary skills you need? If you have talked with your attorney and still aren't sure about legal skills, ask about continuing legal education. Does he or she take any hours above the required minimum number of continuing education hours. Last, but not least, is the attorney truly interested in you, your family, and your estate planning matter? Does the attorney care?
When you have the answers to these questions and feel comfortable with the attorney, you will know you are in the right place! (FYI - I use these tips myself when I need to find an attorney in a different practice area.)
*You may be asking, why do I include elder law in this equation? Because elder law adds a special vantage point and understanding to estate planning. Even if you aren’t a senior, an elder law attorney can advise you regarding life stage planning and key ways to update your estate plan over the years as your situation changes.