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Ask Your Estate Planning Attorney ...

Creating an estate plan is a personal and often emotional undertaking, making the selection of your estate planning attorney of the utmost importance. The goal should be finding an attorney with whom you feel you can establish a relationship, not just having them prepare documents. Below are some questions you should consider and ask your estate planning attorney to determine if they are the right person for the job.

How transparent are they?

Estate planning is dependent on you, your individual circumstances, your goals and wishes, and where you live. As such, your estate plan and your attorney’s fees must be as customized. But how can you find out what is best for you? Does the estate planning attorney offer consultations, charge a fee, and is the consultation fee credited to you if you retain the attorney? Do the attorney’s fees vary on your particular estate plan? Are the fees easily available? Or do you have to speak with the attorney before you get an idea of their estate planning fees? Your estate planning attorney will expect full disclosure from you; as such, your attorney should be as transparent with you. You may want to consider a more transparent attorney if you must pay a fee just to ask some questions about estate planning or to find out what you will be charged to have your estate plan prepared.

Why did they pick estate planning as their practice area?

If we are honest, estate planning is not the most exciting or common practice area. At its core, however, estate planning is truly a personal endeavor. Many estate planning attorneys have personal experiences that influenced their decision to specialize in this area. Asking this question can help you get to know your attorney and their reasons for practicing the way they do. These attorneys are passionate about their work and happy to share their background and the experiences that brought them to choose estate planning as their practice area. If the attorney you are considering has no particular reason for choosing estate planning, then perhaps you should keep looking.

What are their other practice areas?

Estate planning is not easy. If a mistake is made with your estate plan, it is very likely it will not be able to be corrected when it is finally discovered because you will either be incapacitated or have died. Your entire estate plan can be invalidated depending on the seriousness of the mistake. Your estate planning attorney’s primary practice area should be estate planning. The attorney can have other practice areas, but those areas should enhance the attorney’s estate planning services to you. Practice areas such as estate administration (probate), business law, real estate, and tax law are complementary. Estate planning is important. Make sure your estate planning attorney treats it that way.

What is their process?

If you have never done any estate planning before, the unknown of the process can be somewhat intimidating. Getting an answer to this question may help alleviate some of your fears because you will know exactly what will happen. The estate planning process can vary quite a bit depending on the attorney and their level of planning. For example, some attorneys may meet with a client only once before signing documents and then do not have any additional contact with them after signing the documents unless the client initiates it. Other attorneys have multiple meetings prior to signing the documents and additional follow-up meetings afterward. Knowing what the attorney’s process looks like will help you determine whether the level of service they will provide is consistent with your expectations, know how long the process will take, and understand what to expect along the way.

What information do they need from you?

Estate planning relies heavily on you providing complete and accurate information. In fact, the failure to disclose certain information, such as all the accounts and property that you own, debts or other obligations, or the existence of family members, can completely derail an entire estate plan. Some attorneys will rely on the information they glean from conversations with you, while other attorneys will want to see supporting documentation, such as copies of deeds, account statements, insurance policies, etc. It is important that the attorney communicate what information will be needed and provide you with adequate time to collect the information.

Do other people have to be involved?

Because estate planning is such a personal process that requires the disclosure of highly sensitive information, it is good to know whom your attorney plans to involve in the process. Some people are very uncomfortable discussing their private affairs with others and want to limit the disclosure of this information to as few people as possible. If you are married, expect that your spouse will need to be involved in the process. There is really no way of getting around this, as many laws require the disclosure of certain information to one’s spouse.

Beyond your spouse, a few other people have to be involved. You may have trusted advisors, such as a financial planner, a certified public accountant (CPA), or an insurance agent, who have information that can help in the estate planning process and whom you may want to involve in the process to ensure that it goes smoothly. For example, a successful estate plan requires the proper coordination of the legal documents prepared by your estate planning attorney and the beneficiary designations on your accounts (such as retirement accounts) and insurance policies. Your attorney can work together with your financial and insurance advisors to ensure that your beneficiary designations are correct and make any necessary updates to them. Your CPA can also be invaluable in helping you understand the interplay of income, estate, and gift taxes and working with your attorney to ensure that your tax savings are fully maximized. Although these advisors can play an important role, your attorney may be able to limit the amount of information that they share if there are specific details about your estate plan that you do not want to be divulged to your advisors.

Children do not need to be involved and, sometimes, should not be involved. Although it can be helpful to give adult children an overview of what your estate plan looks like and how it will work after your estate plan is completed, it is not necessary that you involve your children in the decision-making process. And if your adult children have strong opinions or if siblings do not all get along, then your children should not be involved in the estate planning process, as this will only be an invitation to challenge your estate plan on the grounds of undue influence later.

Asking these questions of your potential estate planning attorney will help you get to know the attorney and better understand their fees, process, the level of service they will provide, and their professional experience. The answers to these questions can help you determine whether the attorney is a good fit for you and your needs. If you are interested in moving forward with your estate plan or just want to learn more about what is right for you, call us today at 301.892.2713 or click here to schedule a complimentary Estate Planning Discovery Session. Our goal is to establish relationships with our estate planning clients.

"Living with Your Bags Packed!"®


The information in this blog is for educational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.


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