Monday, November 4, 2013
Hiring an Estate Planning Attorney - 7 Things to Know Before You Do
The Top 7 Things to Know Before You Hire a Wills, Trusts or Estate AttorneyYou should consider several different questions before you sign an agreement with any attorney, but this is even more important when it comes to hiring a wills, trusts or estate attorney. This attorney will address sensitive family and financial issues that range from helping you pass assets on to your children and close family members, to protecting you from unnecessary taxes, to helping you determine the best person to make medical decisions on your behalf. This is why you need to know the answers to the seven questions discussed in this special report.#1: Does the attorney offer a free consultation and will he explain what will happen at this initial meeting?An attorney should offer you a free, no hassle consultation. First, meeting him or her will help to put you at ease and will give you a chance to discuss your case in a frank manner. You will also have a chance to ask questions and to determine if this is an attorney whom you can trust to address your legal concerns. Second, it gives the attorney the opportunity to ask you questions and to learn more about your case. You might discover that you do not get along very well with this attorney. Conversely, the attorney may realize that your case is not the type that he wants to take or is not related to his field of expertise. For this type of relationship to work in an effective and productive manner, both you and your attorney need to be able to work together comfortably.#2 Does the attorney offer a flat fee for the services that he will perform and will this be put in writing?Every attorney should use a written agreement, which is known as a retainer agreement. In this agreement, the attorney should clearly state the fee that you will be charged and honor this agreement. The attorney should clearly explain the fee, the services that he will perform, and should also clearly explain the options that are available to you to pay this fee. You should not sign this agreement until you understand how much you will be charged, what the attorney will do for you, what information he will need from you, any deadlines involved, and any other obligations that you are required to perform. You should always feel free to ask the attorney questions if you do not understand something in the agreement or otherwise. You should also ask about the expected completion of the work.A flat fee encourages the attorney to work in an efficient manner and also prevents you from receiving an unexpectedly large bill upon the completion of the services. This can happen if it takes the attorney longer to complete the work than he initially thought.#3 Does the attorney guarantee his service? Will he refund your money if you are not completely satisfied?Your attorney works for you and is being paid to help you plan your estate. You should not tolerate an attorney that will not refund your money if you are not completely satisfied with the work. Additionally, your attorney should be willing to revise your documents that he is initially drafting. However, after he has drafted them and you have expressed your satisfaction, you should not expect the attorney to revise these documents unless you have kept the attorney on retainer. Please note that no attorney will guarantee results if your matter is being litigated in court.#4 Will the attorney help you make wise choices about insurance, saving for your children's college, and retirement planning?Your attorney should help you make decisions about the most appropriate documents and vehicles to accomplish your estate planning objectives, but should also assist you with buying insurance, saving for college, planning for retirement, and all of the other challenging decisions that will arise. In fact, your attorney should have a team of trusted advisors in place in order to help you make the best possible decisions.If your attorney is unable or unwilling to advise you on these matters, then you should seek out an attorney who will do so. Having such an attorney will prevent you from making expensive and unnecessary mistakes, and will save you time in having to hunt for additional advisors.#5 Does your attorney have a process in place to respond to your phone calls and emails quickly in case questions arise? Will your attorney keep you informed about how your matter is progressing?Your attorney should be able to answer your phone calls, emails, and questions quickly. You are paying this attorney for service and for professional guidance and attention, not just for the drafting of your estate planning documents. How often have you heard from friends and loved ones about an attorney that takes days, weeks or more to respond to phone calls? Do not tolerate such unprofessional behavior. Ask your attorney about this and if he is unable to convince you that he has such a process in place, then continue your search for an attorney that will get back to you in a time efficient manner.#6 Does your attorney have a process for helping you capture and pass on not only your physical and financial wealth, but also your intellectual and spiritual assets, as well as what is important to you?Some attorneys recognize that wealth is not measured solely by your net worth, by the value of your brokerage and retirement accounts, but is also measured by who you are as a person. Your intangible assets, such as lessons that you have learned over a lifetime of building wealth, or the wisdom you have accumulated through your life experiences that you would like your children to know more about, are very valuable, almost priceless. These should not be forgotten.When deciding whether to hire an attorney, be sure to select someone who will help you capture, document, and pass on all of your assets, including those intangible ones that are often overlooked.#7 Will your attorney make sure that your assets are structured and owned in the right way?You could hire an attorney at the largest firm around and pay him an exorbitant fee, but if your assets are not titled and owned in the right manner, then the plan that he created will not work for you. The attorney that you plan to hire should be willing to ensure not only that your documents are drafted correctly, but also that your assets are structured properly.Do not be afraid to ask these questions before you hire an attorney to work with your family on legal planning matters. When you find an attorney that says yes to these questions, hire him or her quickly before the practice fills up and he or she stops taking on new clients. Asking these questions and hearing the right answers before you engage a lawyer to work on your wills, trusts, and estate will ensure you put in place legal planning for your family that will work when you need it.