Question #1 - How often have you helped clients like me?
What about your estate planning needs is unique? Do you have a business, real estate or family situation that needs special consideration? Do you have a special needs child? Do you have assets that will require special consideration or tax planning? No matter what your situation is, any estate planning attorney you want to use should be able to give an estimate of the number or percentage of times they have helped people in similar situations. No situation should be unique enough that your estate planning attorney has never handled something similar.
Question #2 - Tell me about some estate plans you have done for people like me.
No matter what your particular situation, your estate planning attorney should be able to definitely discuss plans that he or she has prepared addressing unique needs similar to yours. Any estate planning attorney that has practiced for any length of time should have pretty much seen and planned for everything. No matter what your assets are, your family situation, or your future goals for yourself or your family, your estate planning attorney should take it all in stride and be able to confidently discuss the last time they planned something similar.
Question #3 - How much of your practice is estate planning?
A primary portion, or ideally all cases your estate planning attorney works on, should be related to estate planning. This is a deceptively difficult area of law with constant changes in both federal and state laws. The learning curve is steep and the intricacies are tricky. The attorney you hire to prepare your estate plan should be confident and competent in this particular area of law. That means they should devote most, if not all, of their time to just preparing estate plans.
Question #4 - How would you work with my other advisors?
A comprehensive estate plan will incorporate and act in conjunction with other professionals you may have involved with your assets. This could include accountants, investment managers, insurance professionals, other attorneys, etc. Not every estate plan will have these individuals involved, but the more complex your estate planning, the more collaboration and communication between professionals is necessary.
Question #5 - Who will be doing the work on my estate plan?
It is common for new associate attorneys or even paralegals to be involved with the drafting of your documents. This can save you money because of their much lower billable rates, but a more senior and experienced attorney should meet with you and review all work prior to signing.
Question #6 - Can you provide a free estimate?
It is common for estate planning attorneys to provide a free estimate and initial discussion about your case. This may depend on your location, but it’s nice to be informed and get a feel for the attorney prior to making a commitment. Fees alone should not be the determining factor for selecting your estate planning attorney, but it is an important consideration. Your estate planning attorney should be open and transparent about the fees involved. Beware of small flat fee arrangements since they may indicate boilerplate forms being used which are likely not sufficiently tailored to your individual needs.
Question #7 - How will you charge for my estate plan?
Estate planning attorneys will often charge a flat rate for projects. This flat rate will generally involve your initial consultation, drafting, document review, answering questions and proper signing of the documents. Additional flat rate or hourly charges may apply for additional documents or planning that may be required. Other attorneys may charge hourly, which can discourage questions since in these cases time is money. Either method is fine, but make sure you are clear upfront about charges and fees related to your case.
Question #8 - What will happen to my documents once they are signed?
You should be welcome to take your own estate planning documents with you after signing. You paid for them. However, estate planning attorneys will often provide storage of your documents for free, in a fire-proof safe or other secure place. It is important that you know where your original Will is, since it must be presented for filing after your death. Having your estate planning attorney hold these important documents ensures their safety and there should be no obligation for your family to hire that attorney just because they may hold your original documents (but they are probably welcome to).
Question #9 - What professional organizations are you involved with or what courses/conferences do you regularly attend?
Estate planning law is constantly evolving. Federal and state law changes happen every year. New planning techniques are always being found and better language is always being discussed. The learning curve is steep and staying on top of the industry requires constant industry engagement. Attendance at estate planning conferences, taking online or in-person continuing legal education courses and involvement with bar association-related tax and estate planning classes are important even if not required by the state.
Question #10 - Can you provide references?
A good estate planning attorney should have clients that are willing to talk with you about their experience with the attorney.
Question #11 - Would you be comfortable working with this attorney?
Drafting your estate plan is probably the single most important process you will do for yourself and your family. Just like your doctor, your estate planning attorney can’t help you if you don’t tell them everything they need to know. This means you need to intimately trust this person with your most private financial and/or family information. You should feel comfortable calling them to ask any questions you may have. You need to feel confident that they have the knowledge and the skill to help you plan for your family’s future.