In looking for estate planning assistance, you should consider the following:
1. Do they concentrate their practice solely in estate planning? It’s difficult enough for a specialist to keep up with current law and best practices, let alone an attorney who also handles other areas of the law (such as real estate closings, family law, etc.)
2. Will you meet with an attorney who works for a law firm? Estate planning involves the practice of law. You should meet with a properly licensed attorney who practices under the name of his law firm or as a member of a larger law firm. Beware of “document preparation” firms that claim to have attorneys on staff.
3. How long has the law firm been in business and how many years of experience does it have in estate planning? To ensure continuity and a higher level of expertise, choose an attorney who has been in business and practicing estate planning for many years.
4. Is there more than one attorney in the law firm? A law firm with multiple attorneys gives you the peace of mind that someone familiar with you and your plan will more likely be there to assist you, your spouse, your trustees and your beneficiaries when the time comes, which may be years in the future. Multiple attorneys may also help assure the proper quality review of your planning.
5. Are they State Bar Certified Specialists? Anyone can call themselves an “Estate Planner”, but only an attorney who has passed a special examination and been reviewed by his fellow professionals may call himself a “Board Certified Specialist.”
6. Do they provide you with a comprehensive “Owner’s Manual,” along with your Living Trust and associated documents? Estate planning documents can sometimes be difficult to understand and put into use. Instructive memos and summaries can help.
7. Can they assist in transferring all your assets properly into your Living Trust? This is a very important and often overlooked aspect of estate planning.
8. Do they have advanced Estate Planning or Tax Degrees and offer advanced level estate tax planning beyond a Living Trust? Attorneys learn very little, if anything, about estate planning and taxation while studying for a Juris Doctor. An LL.M. in tax or estate planning shows that an attorney has obtained specialized training in those fields.
9. Do you receive a review meeting every two years? Regular reviews are necessary to keep a plan current.
10. How many estates and trusts have they administered after clients have passed away?
(This is when your estate plan is truly tested! ) Lawyers who do not handle estate and trust administration have no experience in those areas to help them improve their drafting of documents from a practical standpoint.
11. Do they offer your spouse or other successor executor or trustee a free consultation when you pass away? This encourages the fiduciary to seek legal counsel at this important time.
Remember, your estate planner is responsible for protecting your entire lifetime’s hard-earned assets, so choose your estate planner wisely!