Whether you have an estate plan that needs updating, or you are just getting started with estate planning, there are a number of questions you may have about the process, beginning with whether or not you need an estate planning lawyer.
Do You Even Need an Estate Planning Lawyer?
Whenever someone asks me why they should hire an estate planning lawyer, I tell them about the time I tried to save some money and stain my own deck.
My wife told me I was making a mistake from the beginning. I should have listened to her.
We actually called a company to come out and look at our deck and give us a quote for what it would cost to re-stain the deck. The quote was reasonable, let’s say $1,000. But I was absolutely sure that after watching a couple of YouTube videos and talking to some guys at Lowe’s that I could do the job myself.
So I spent a couple hundred bucks on deck stain, I pre-washed the deck, and off I went, roller and oil-based stain in hand.
You already know that the story doesn’t end well…
When I finished my first and only attempt at staining my deck, it would be a compliment to say that the deck looked bad.
It was downright awful.
The stain had pooled in some areas, was uneven, and the job looked terrible. With birthday parties looming… we did what any reasonable people would do – we called back the staining company and asked what it would cost to fix my mess.
I wish there was a happy ending, but sadly, they took no pity on us.
In the south, I believe the saying is “Well, bless your heart…”
Unfortunately, we were now a bit later into the “deck staining season”, and the company we called was much busier now than when we had originally called. In addition, they would have to sand down the deck to fix everything that I messed up.
At the end of the day, it cost us roughly double the original estimate to get our deck stained, not counting my lost time and the $200 or so I had spent on materials and stain to try to do the job myself.
So the proper question is not “can I afford to hire an estate planning lawyer,” but rather, “what would it cost my friends and family if I don’t hire an estate planning lawyer to handle things correctly the first time?”
Can you do your own estate planning?
Sure you can.
But, honestly, should you draft your own will or trust?
Only if you want to cause an expensive and time intensive mess for your family later on that will only end in misery, heartache, and stress.
Why is It Important to Hire an Estate Planning Lawyer?
There are numerous benefits to hiring an estate planning lawyer, versus either doing nothing or attempting to prepare your own estate planning documents on your own. Here are just a few of the many benefits:
An Estate Planning Lawyer Will Help Your Cover All Your Bases
What exactly does this mean? It means that as an estate planning lawyer, I have thought long and hard about all the different possibilities and scenarios that could arise if something were to happen to you.
Not you personally, but “you” from the standpoint that lawyers are trained to find the problem areas in every situation. We are trained to plan for every possible contingency. We are trained in the art of brainstorming how things might go wrong.
Sounds depressing, doesn’t it?
But you should use this attribute to your benefit. When you sit down to talk to an estate planning lawyer during your Wealth Planning Session, you should come prepared with questions about what would happen to your loved ones if you weren’t around.
- What would happen if you were incapacitated?
- Who would take care of your children?
- What would happen to your pets?
- Could your family keep your home? If so, how would they pay for it?
- What would happen to your business?
These are just a few of the questions for you to consider. Your estate planning lawyer will help you to brainstorm many others and help you come up with answers to all of them.
Peace of Mind Knowing That Your Family Will Be Taken Care Of
Probably the biggest gift that an estate planning lawyer can give you is the peace of mind.
When you hire an estate planning lawyer to help you put together your estate plan, you know that all your i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed.
You know that every contingency has been thought out and planned for.
You know what would happen to your kids if you and your spouse suffered a “date night tragedy”.
You know how things would be handled in the event of your incapacity or death.
Peace of mind is a funny thing. Sometimes you don’t know how great it is until you actually have it.
Ongoing Advice and Guidance No Matter What Life Throws at You
As an estate planning lawyer, I believe it is important to foster relationships with a number of other lawyers, both locally and nationally.
I do this for two reasons.
The first reason is purely selfish – I’ll admit it. I receive a lot of referrals from other local lawyers that don’t handle estate planning matters. So it is smart to maintain good relationships with those local lawyers.
The second reason is because it benefits my clients. I know that if I have a client that gets into trouble and needs a good criminal lawyer, I have a name I can give them. If they need help with a real estate matter, I have another name I can give them. In fact, I have relationships with lots of lawyers in many practice areas that I don’t handle, including:
- Criminal Law (including DUI’s and traffic tickets)
- Real Estate (thinking about buying or selling a house?)
- Business Law (forming an LLC or negotiating a contract?)
- Adoption Law
- Personal Injury Law (Injured in a car accident that wasn’t your fault?)
- Much more…
By working with an estate planning lawyer, you are also gaining access to a list of our most trusted resources when it comes to legal help in a myriad of other practice areas.
What should you look for in an Estate Planning Lawyer?
Now that you know why you should hire an estate planning lawyer, what exactly should you look for in the lawyer you choose to draft your estate plan?
In other words, how do you pick one lawyer over another?
There are several criteria we recommend you use when picking an estate planning lawyer to assist you. Your lawyer may not meet all of these are
- Do they answer all of your questions when you meet with them?
- After meeting with them, do you feel comfortable with them as a person?
- Do they focus their practice on estate planning only or are they a general practitioner?
- Are they a member of WealthCounsel?
- What do their online reviews say about them?
- Do they have a helpful and informative website?
- Do they offer a regular seminar or other resources for potential clients to learn more?
Let’s go through these criteria one-by-one and dissect what each means a bit more.
Do they answer all of your questions when you meet with them?
This is fairly self-explanatory. If they can’t answer your questions or are unwilling or unable to give you a sufficient answer, then they may not be the right lawyer for you. Some attorneys may not know all the answers to your questions, and that is ok. Are they straightforward about this and tell you that they will find the answer and get back to you, or do they fumble through a response as they go?
At The Hart Law Firm, we strive to be as open and honest with our clients and prospects as we can. If we don’t know the answer to a question, we will find the answer and call you back or email you to get you that information. Our goal is to have clients that are fully informed and educated about their planning.
After meeting with them, do you feel comfortable with them as a person?
Again, this is fairly straightforward criteria. You either feel comfortable with them or you don’t. Don’t feel pressured into making a buying decision if you don’t feel comfortable with the lawyer.
And while we are on this topic, make sure to find out whether the lawyer you are meeting with will be the point person on your file, or whether another lawyer at the firm will handle your planning needs. This is an important and often overlooked question.
At The Hart Law Firm, the lawyer you meet with is the lawyer that will be handling your case from beginning to end. We don’t believe in switching attorneys “mid-stream”.
Do they focus their practice on estate planning only or are they a general practitioner?
There are lots of different types of attorneys and law firms that handle estate planning matters in Cary, Raleigh, and the Triangle region. There are big firms that do nothing but estate planning, and there are solos and small firms that handle many issues, including estate planning.
Make sure that the lawyer you choose isn’t a “copy and paste” lawyer. In other words, do they custom draft every estate plan or do they take a prior plan from another client and run a “find and replace” to change all the names for your plan?
In general, a lawyer that handles one or two practice areas is ok, if one of those practice areas is estate planning. But you should be careful of a lawyer that lists 5-10 different practice areas on their website. This is a sign that the lawyer is more of a “generalist” who dabbles in estate planning. And that’s not to say that their work isn’t great, but you will get a different experience if you work with a lawyer that focuses their practice on estate planning matters.
Here at The Hart Law Firm, you will see that the focus of our practice moving forward is primarily estate planning. However, you may also find that we handle family law matters, which was the primary focus of our practice since we first opened our doors in Orlando in 2005. Our long-term goal is to divide our firm into two different practice groups, estate planning, and family law, with different lawyers running each group.
Are they a member of WealthCounsel?
WealthCounsel is the premiere organization for estate planning lawyers in the United States. Joining WealthCounsel is a significant investment for a lawyer, so only lawyers that are truly passionate about estate planning and who plan to make it a core focus of their practice will join.
Joining WealthCounsel gives a member lawyer access to a wealth of resources, including powerful drafting software, continuing education, and access to other estate planning practitioners both nationally and locally.
Basically, if you find a lawyer who has joined WealthCounsel, you know they are serious about estate planning.
And yes, here at The Hart Law Firm we are proud members of WealthCounsel.
What do their online reviews say about them?
When looking at online reviews, you want to be aware of a couple of things. First, does the lawyer you want to hire even have any online reviews? Second, what is the general sentiment of the reviews?
Assuming the lawyer has reviews, are they 100% good, or are they all bad? Are they mostly good with a couple bad reviews?
Read these reviews critically. Do they all sound the same? Does the reviewer provide their name or are they anonymous? Has the lawyer responded appropriately to any negative reviews?
One or two negative reviews are ok and even appropriate. Multiple negative reviews, or listings with no negative reviews would merit caution. Nobody can please everyone.
We have online reviews with Google, Avvo, and Yelp. The overwhelming majority of these reviews are positive, but there are a couple negative reviews also.
Do they have a helpful and informative website?
Lawyer websites that merely have information on the firm, their practice areas and contact information should be avoided. Frankly, there just isn’t any value there.
Good estate planning lawyers are starting to realize that consumers want information. You should want to learn more about the estate planning process before coming in to meet with a lawyer. Perhaps you want to know what documents are included in an estate plan or the difference between trust-based plans and will-based plans. This will help you to ask better questions of the lawyer and ultimately, will make you a better client.
So look for lawyer sites that have an updated blog, some helpful videos, and maybe even a podcast. All of these will help you to learn more about estate planning before you make a hiring decision.
At The Hart Law Firm, we update our blog regularly and are working to roll out more videos for our YouTube Channel. We have also worked to prepare a website full of valuable information and resources for your as you learn more about the options available to you with estate planning.
Do they offer a regular seminar or other resources for potential clients to learn more?
One of the best ways to get information about estate planning first hand from an estate planning lawyer, WITHOUT paying for a consultation, is to attend an estate planning seminar.
So check and see if the lawyer you are thinking about hiring conducts regular seminars for potential clients, typically 1-2 per month.
Here at The Hart Law Firm, we are in the process of rolling out a seminar series that will start this spring. If you would like to learn more or get on our list to be notified of upcoming seminars and events, please click here.
Final Thoughts on Hiring an Estate Planning Lawyer
Hiring a lawyer, especially an estate planning lawyer, is a highly personal decision. You are entrusting your life and the lives of your loved ones in the hands of this person. Don’t take that decision lightly.
Do your research, talk to several lawyers, and find the estate planning lawyer that you feel comfortable with.
If you would like to schedule a wealth planning session with our firm, please feel free to call us at (919) 460-5422 or you can fill out our online contact firm here. For a limited time, we are waiving the $350 planning fee if you are willing to return some information to us prior to the meeting. Currently, we are booking out two weeks in advance, so call today to get started!