What to Look For in an Estate Planning Lawyer

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An estate planning attorney is a type of lawyer who understands the legal processes of getting financial affairs in order when you're preparing for an incapacitating event or your eventual passing. They have years of mentoring, continuing legal education, and experience in estate and inheritance law.

Learn about these specialized attorneys and how they can ensure your estate is handled the way you want after you pass on.

What Does an Estate Planning Lawyer Do?

Estate planning doesn't begin and end with a last will and testament. An attorney practicing in this field drafts living trusts and develops plans to mitigate or avoid estate taxes. They work to ensure that your life's savings and assets are safe from beneficiaries' creditors when you pass on.

Certain types of trusts and clauses within them can protect your estate from creditors and other vultures that try to swoop in on an inheritance.

Estate planning lawyers can prepare powers of attorney and health care directives that arrange for someone to take care of your affairs if you should ever become mentally incapacitated. Powers of attorney give someone you trust the ability to sign in your name if you become unable to. You can make a health care directive to assign an agent to conduct your health care wishes if you're incapacitated.

They can help you avoid guardianship or conservatorship issues if you need someone else to look after your affairs. You can appoint guardians (to handle personal issues for your kids) or conservators (to handle your kids' finances) to look after your children and finances if you pass away before they reach an appropriate age be on their own and handle their inheritance.

Estate Planning Lawyer Qualities

A general law practitioner may not have the experience and specialized knowledge to assist you with your unique family and financial situations. Look for an estate planning attorney who:

  • Devotes their practice to estate planning
  • Makes you feel comfortable sharing intimate details of your life and concerns, so your estate plan doesn't fall short of your expectations and needs. 
  • Is well-versed in and up-to-date with the laws of your state. Otherwise, your estate plan could be deemed invalid by the court. 

For example, in Florida, a personal representative must be related to you by blood or marriage. Otherwise, they must be a resident of the state. Yet wills of Florida residents often designate an out-of-state friend or attorney as the personal representative. This individual can't and won't be allowed to serve. Working with a qualified estate planning attorney will help you to avoid this simple and costly mistake.

Finding an Estate Planning Attorney

There are multiple ways to find an estate planning attorney you can comfortably work with and trust. Start by asking someone who already knows you, such as your financial adviser or accountant. Your local or state bar association is another source of reputable referrals. You can ask the local probate court and consult other attorneys as well.

Before committing, it may be possible to interview a few briefly by phone to help determine your ability to communicate effectively with them.

How Much Does an Estate Plan Cost? 

Be prepared to pay to have your estate plan created, maintained, and updated by someone specializing in this area of practice. You're paying for the attorney's expertise and knowledge of estate laws, and to have a plan that will hold up in court.

Your estate might stand to lose far more money in the long run than it costs to pay a qualified attorney.

A flat fee may cover the preparation of essential documents and initial consultation. If an attorney wants to charge you by the hour, try to negotiate a flat price for all the work you expect is needed. Some experienced attorneys will agree because they have a good sense of how much time goes into a specific task.

If your estate incurs taxes that could have been avoided, or if a contentious probate process drags out after you pass on, your loved ones may wish that you had spent the money to plan instead.

It is worth paying for the planning, so that you know things will go exactly as you intended because you had the help of an experienced estate planning attorney. Take the time to find and hire a professional and respected attorney in your area. In the long run, you and your family will be glad you did.

Key Takeaways

  • Estate planning attorneys help you plan how to leave your estate so that it follows the law and stands up in court.
  • Look for an attorney that is experienced and specializes in estate planning.
  • Check with your professional network or personal contacts to see if any know a reputable estate planning attorney.
  • Paying for an attorney to help you plan your estate can save your loved ones and estate thousands of dollars.