What to Look For in an Estate Planning Lawyer

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An estate planning attorney is a type of lawyer who understands how to advise clients on getting their affairs in order to prepare for the possibility of mental disability and eventual death. They have years of mentoring, continuing legal education, and experience.

What an Estate Planning Lawyer Does

Estate planning doesn't begin and end with a last will and testament. An attorney specializing in this field will also draft living trusts, develop a plan to mitigate or avoid estate taxes, and work to ensure that your life's savings and assets are safe from your beneficiaries' creditors after your death.

They can prepare power of attorney and health care directives that arrange for someone to take care of your affairs in the event you should ever become mentally incapacitated. They can help you avoid guardianship or conservatorship issues if you need someone else to look after your affairs. 

Qualities to Look For in Your Estate Planning Lawyer

A general 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 ultimately be deemed invalid by the court. 

For example, in Florida, a personal representative must either 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 kind of simple and yet costly mistake.

Where to Look for an Estate Planning Attorney

There are multiple ways to find an estate planning attorney you can work with comfortably and trust. Start with 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 making a commitment, it may be possible to interview a few briefly by phone to help determine your ability to communicate effectively with them.

What You Should Expect to Pay For Your Estate Plan 

Be prepared to pay somewhat higher legal fees to have your estate plan created, maintained, and updated by someone who specializes in this area of practice. You're paying for the attorney's expertise accumulated over years of working with a variety of different clients and taking a multitude of continuing legal education classes. As the saying goes, "You get what you pay for."

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

Your estate might stand to lose far more money in the long run than the cost of paying a qualified attorney now. If estate taxes come due that could have been avoided, or if a contentious probate process drags out after your death—incurring even more court and legal fees—your loved ones may wish that you had simply spent the money to plan ahead instead.

Then, of course, there's peace of mind. How much is it worth to know that when you die, 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 an experienced and respected estate planning attorney in your area. In the long run, you and your family will be glad you did.