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What to Look for in an Estate Planning Attorney

Estate Plan

You probably realize that you need estate planning of some kind, whether it’s a simple document naming someone with authority to handle your finances in the event of your incapacity or a complex estate plan.  These decisions will involve the people and property that you care most about, and you should not make them without legal advice from a trusted source.  While you understand that, choosing an estate planning attorney can be overwhelming.

A fast Google search for “estate planning attorney” will reveal hundreds of attorneys who advertise as having estate planning expertise and experience.  Most will take the time to have at least a brief conversation with you before you proceed with planning.

  1. How long have you been practicing estate planning? There is no substitute for actual time spent in practice.  An experienced estate planning attorney should have at least five years of experience, after law school, or should be working closely with an experienced mentor.
  1. What percentage of your time do you spend on estate planning or administration? Some attorneys who purport to practice estate planning only spend a small fraction of their time in that field.
  1. Do you fund and administer the estate plans you create? Many estate plans could involve ongoing work, new tax filings, retitling your property, or sending regular notifications to your heirs.  You should not work with an attorney who will accept a fee to create documents but who does not assist you with the work required to make them function properly.
  1. How do you stay apprised of changes in the law? Estate planning involves a combination of several types of state, federal, and local laws.  Here are a few laws that come into play for a typical estate plan:  federal estate tax, state estate tax, local property tax, the state probate code, and current governing case law relating to trusts, estates, and fiduciaries.  Your attorney should be informed and understand any changes as they occur, and she or he should be able to contact you if any changes directly affect your planning.
  1. Are you available to answer questions about my planning once it is complete? You may not have the opportunity to fully absorb your estate planning documents before you sign them.  No one expects you, a non-attorney, to understand the details of complex legal documents; however, if you have specific questions or concerns, you should be able to contact your attorney to get the answers you need.

Perhaps the most important question to ask yourself is whether you feel comfortable and confident that your attorney understands your estate planning goals and will be able to create a plan for you to achieve them.  There is no substitute for the peace of mind that comes with knowing that your estate planning is done properly.

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