If you are starting to think about hiring an estate planning attorney to help you draft a will or a trust, this is a must-read article.
Here are 8 questions you must ask any lawyer you are considering hiring to help you draft a will or trust so that you don’t overpay for services you don’t need, don’t want, or didn’t even realize you are getting.
8 Questions to Ask Your Estate Planning Attorney BEFORE You Hire Them
1. How much does the initial planning session cost?
As you begin the process of preparing your estate plan done, one of the first things you are going to want to do is call around to different law firms and see how you are treated.
Pay careful attention how the receptionist treats you, as this will be a good indication of how the lawyer you work with will treat you.
Many times you will be transferred to a paralegal or lawyer. When you do finally talk to someone, ask them about their process and how the initial meeting is handled. You also want to know whether there is an initial charge for this meeting.
The purpose of the initial meeting is for you to start to get to know the estate planning attorney that will be working on your plan. It should be an educational meeting that allows you to ask a lot of questions and receive some specific advice and guidance.
What you will find is that many lawyers will charge for this meeting – and those that do will provide you with the best information. But you should determine up front what that fee will be, and how long the meeting is expected to last.
There is an old saying that you get what you pay for. Lawyers that give away their time doing free consultations do so for a reason. They want to meet with you to try to sign you up as a client – they aren’t interested in educating you about the process.
Don’t be afraid to pay for the initial meeting. It just might be the best education you will ever receive.
2. Do you bill by the hour or with flat fees? What is included with your flat fees?
When I hired a lawyer to draft the first estate plan for my wife and me, we paid a flat fee. However, when we had some minor changes several months later, we were hit with some hefty and unexpected legal bills.
Don’t let this happen to you. Make sure that you ask the lawyer exactly how they bill for their time in preparing your estate plan. We recommend that you seek out a lawyer that offers flat fee billing, as we do here at The Hart Law Firm.
Make sure you know what is included with the fee, up front. Get this documented in a written fee agreement. If your lawyer doesn’t offer a fee contract that fully and completely explains their billings, walk away.
3. Does the planning fee include ongoing reviews, updates to my documents, and changes due to life circumstances?
Far too many clients believe that preparing an estate plan is a one-time transaction. It’s something they need to do, and once it is done, they put their documents in a file drawer and cross estate planning off their list of things to do.
The problem with this strategy is that as time passes, your personal circumstances will change. Someday, you will die or become incapacitated, and your family will actually need to rely on your plan documents to manage your affairs or divide up your estate.
At this point, your loved ones will discover that your estate planning documents are either out of date or the plan was never properly funded or both.
Many times, this happens because the lawyer that drafted the documents didn’t properly counsel the client about the need to regularly update their plan.
Your estate plan is a living, breathing document. Over time your personal circumstances will change. People who you wanted to receive certain assets will die or fall out of favor with you. Other people may enter your life that you want to be included in your plan.
As a result, you will need a lawyer that is willing to stay with you for the long haul. Someone that will keep your plan documents up to date, meet with you regularly to review your situation, and provide you with ongoing advice and guidance without the burden of additional hourly fees.
We recommend that you look for a lawyer that offers recurring membership and educational programs to keep you in the loop about recent developments in the law and keep your plan up to date so that it does what it is supposed to when you need it most.
4. Does your office help me with funding to insure my plan works they way it is supposed to when it is needed?
I’m amazed at how many lawyers I talk to who aren’t interested in doing some of the more beneficial estate planning strategies simple because they don’t believe their clients will fund their plans.
For this reason, you should look for a firm that will provide you with help and guidance to insure that your plan is properly structured and that your assets are properly titled so that your plan works the way it is supposed to.
Some lawyers are licensed to purchase investment products, but many are not. Frankly, I would be wary of the lawyers that are licensed, as there are legal and ethical issues at play here. Regardless, you want a lawyer who has knowledge of how these products work, and who has the names of several colleagues that they can refer you to for help in these areas if needed.
6. Do you have a way to help me pass on my legacy, including my stories and values, to the next generation?
Many estate planning attorneys completely ignore the intellectual property and family wealth that their clients need to capture and share with their children and grandchildren.
The fact of the matter is, your wealth is comprised of much more than simply your dollars in the bank or the house you own. It is comprised of your stories, your values, your voice, your overall legacy. And if you don’t find a lawyer that will help you capture these precious assets, they will be gone forever.
At The Hart Law Firm, we have developed a Legacy Conversation as part of each and every estate plan that is used to capture your legacy and begin the process of passing these priceless assets down to your children.
7. After I hire your firm, how will we communicate? How will you follow-up with me?
It is no secret that many lawyers are terrible communicators. Failing to return phone calls is one of the number one complaints of lawyers and a frequent source of frustration for clients.
Lawyers that are non-responsive are that way because they haven’t put proper systems in place to make sure that they can adequately and timely communicate with their clients.
At The Hart Law Firm, we have a process in place so that clients can quickly and easily schedule a call with our office to get their questions answered in a timely fashion.
Be wary of lawyers that answer ever call that comes into their office – they typically are either understaffed, unorganized, or both. It is next to impossible for your lawyer to be effective and efficient with their caseload if they are constantly answering the phone.
That’s why we pre-schedule calls to insure that nobody’s time gets wasted.
8. Will you proactively communicate with me on a regular basis?
Just as lawyers don’t like to answer the phone, they also are very poor at proactively communicating with their clients on a regular basis. Because most lawyers, especially estate planning attorneys, view much of their work as transactional, the thought of staying in touch with clients is as foreign as speaking a different language. They just can’t do it.
Here at The Hart Law Firm, we view our role as your primary lawyer for the rest of your life. Once you become a client of our firm, you become part of our little family. We pride ourselves in keeping our clients updated on legal issues that effect their lives through regular hard copy newsletters as well as regular email correspondence.