For many people, the prospect of discussing their sensitive family and financial scenarios, in the context of their eventual death, is intimidating. Even so, estate planning is an important undertaking that responsible people should not ignore. The best way to improve the process is to find an estate planning attorney with whom you are comfortable.
So how do you find the right estate planning attorney for you? Let me break it down into three simple steps.
Step One: Identify some attorneys that practice in the estate planning field.
The first step is to identify attorneys that include estate planning in their law practice. Here are some tips.
Ask your professional advisors: Financial advisors and accountants tend to run in the same circles as estate planning attorneys. Ask your other advisors for an introduction.
Ask your current lawyer: If you’ve engaged a lawyer in the past for other issues, he or she may know an estate planning specialist.
Ask your family and friends: Perhaps someone in your family or social circle has done some estate planning. If so, they may be able to recommend someone to you.
Search the internet: If you’re interested in getting the most information in the shortest amount of time from the comfort of your home or office, just hop on Google. Search for estate planning attorneys in your area. Try using a few different search terms (estate, trust, probate, lawyer, attorney, etc.). Unless you truly live in the middle of nowhere, you’ll find many attorneys, mostly located in the commercial areas closest to your home. Pay special attention to the Google Local results (the ones that show up on a map) to see where they are located.
Step Two: Review each attorney’s website for key information and red flags.
The best way to evaluate a potential estate planning attorney early in the process is to check out their website. When reviewing a website, try to answer these questions.
Is this lawyer knowledgable about estate planning?
Estate planning is a multi-disciplinary practice that involves taxes, health care, finance, and business. Because of this complexity, estate planning has become a specialty practice. As such, you should make sure that your lawyer is an estate planning specialist. Check to see that their website discusses estate planning in a thorough and comprehensive manner.
Is this lawyer out of touch, or set in their ways?
Estate planning is a constantly changing area of law. For example, in the last few years, Massachusetts has completely overhauled their probate, estate administration, and guardianship/conservatorship laws, with the adoption of the Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code. Massachusetts has also implemented new changes by adopting a modified version of the Uniform Trust Code. On the federal level, the estate tax laws have changed every few years for more than a decade.
As a result of these constant changes, the best estate planning lawyers tend to be younger, energetic, and enterprising. Just having a website is a good indicator that you’ve found such an attorney. On the other hand, if an attorney has been doing things the same way for the last forty years, they may be slow to adapt to the current state of the industry.
Is this lawyer a general practitioner?
Unfortunately, because of the downturn in the economy and real estate markets over the last five years, many business and real estate lawyers now hold themselves out as estate planners. This makes it more difficult to find a genuine estate planning specialist. When reviewing an attorney’s website, take a close look at their “practice areas.” If they say that they specialize in personal injury, divorce, criminal defense, real estate, business, bankruptcy, and estate planning… that means that they don’t specialize in anything. The “Jack-of-all-Trades, Master-of-None” is not someone to whom you should entrust your family’s legacy.
Please be aware that there are some complementary practice areas to estate planning. For example, genuine estate planners often have subspecialties in probate and guardianship law.
If the attorney seems like a true specialist, with the energy and passion to stay current with the industry, then it’s time to move on to the next step.
Step Three: Schedule a consultation to see if it’s a good fit.
There is no substitute for an actual, sit-down, face-to-face, conversation. Many estate planners offer free consultations to prospective clients, although some high-end planners may not. The purpose for this consultation is two-fold. First, it allows the attorney to convey their approach to estate planning in the context of your family’s unique situation. Second, it gives you the opportunity to evaluate your comfort level with the attorney. Did the attorney listen to and understand my goals? Did he or she appear well informed? Most importantly: Would I feel comfortable working with them?
If you’ve made it this far in the article, I invite you to use my website as a starting point.
I hope that my website (www.deplawfirm.com), and this blog, portray me as an energetic and knowledgable estate planning specialist. But that’s for you to decide. If so, I would love to hear from you. My office is in Danvers, on the North Shore of Massachusetts.