Planning your estate is no easy feat and making sure everything is done right can be essential to the financial well-being of your heirs and loved ones. Estate planning is more complicated than just writing a will. It also helps minimize taxes and other charges and sets up emergency plans for your health care in case of disability. Because estate planning is literally a matter of life and death, you should only trust a qualified lawyer who specializes in this area.
What will the lawyer do?
It's tempting to save time and money by writing your own will or investing in a testament kit. However, none of these simplified methods can accomplish all of your wishes, as every situation is unique. Moreover, no software in the world can provide qualified advice that comes from experience. A qualified estate planning attorney can help you navigate the laws governing property rights, taxes, wills, probate, and trusts.
What to look for
Only an estate planning lawyer currently practicing in related fields will be able to provide you with sound legal advice regarding your estate plan. Find a lawyer specializing in estate planning who is a member in good standing of the National Bar. Also make sure that the estate planning lawyer you are considering is up to date with continuing education requirements. Also make sure that every lawyer you select has malpractice or liability insurance coverage, in case they make a mistake.
There are several things to look for in an estate planning lawyer. Make sure to interview each prospect at length to make sure you feel good about your final decision. Some of the questions to ask are:
o How long have you been in the field of estate planning?
o How would you rate your level of experience and qualifications in estate planning law?
o Are you a member of a law society or estate planning organization?
o Are you aware of the continuing education requirements of the bar?
o Does your business support you with liability or malpractice insurance?
o How do you deal with complicated family conflicts?
o Can you give me an example of a very simple case you had versus a very complicated case?
Beyond the myriad of questions you'll want to ask, make sure you have your feelers and really get a feel for the person. Does the lawyer make you feel safe and taken care of? Does he or she come across as someone who will be sympathetic to your loved ones during their time of grieving? Likewise, does he come across as a money-hungry guy who talks fast? Trust your instincts.
Along with trusting your gut, be sure to do your homework as well. Ask the lawyer for references and call the references.
You can certainly search the yellow pages or online for an estate planning lawyer in your area. However, the verification process will be much longer and more complicated if you start from scratch. On the flip side, if you contact an attorney who comes highly recommended by a trusted friend or family member, there is a built-in degree of trust that no money can buy. Ask around – at work, at church, with friends or even at your children's school. Someone you know has a good (if not a bad) story about an estate planning lawyer. Even if you don't come across a recommendation from a specific attorney who can help you, you may be able to avoid working with a bad one by heeding warnings from friends.