Ask for a Personal Referral
One of the most effective ways to find an estate planning lawyer is to ask for a personal referral. Talk to your family members and friends who have already created their estate plan. Find out who they used. Ask them the following questions:
- Were you happy with the lawyer?
- What was their fee?
- What was their turnaround time?
- Did they answer your questions?
- Did they return phone calls and emails in a timely manner?
- Do they offer remote consultations?
- Would they recommend this attorney to a friend or family member?
- What was it they didn’t like about the attorney?
A personal recommendation speaks volumes about the ability of the attorney to provide superior service to his or her clients.
Talk to Your Specialists
You more than likely work with an accountant and a financial planner. Both of these specialists should have contacts in the legal field, especially in the estate planning practice area. Ask each one for a few recommendations. Estate planning attorneys work with accountants and financial planners all the time. Find one who has a strong working relationship with your specialists or ones they recommend working with even if they haven’t worked with them in a while.
Talk to An Attorney from Another Practice Area
Have you worked with an attorney in the personal injury, real estate, or business law practice areas? If so, there’s nothing wrong with asking one of these attorneys for a referral to an estate planning attorney. They will undoubtedly have connections they can refer to you, some of whom might work in their firm.
Explore Your State or Local Bar Association
It might not be a bad idea to explore your state or local bar association when looking for an estate planning lawyer. There might even be a referral service set up with the association. Either way, the bar association will be able to provide you with a directory of all registered and licensed estate planning attorneys in your area.
Ask Good Questions
Again, it’s important that you take advantage of the consultation, which almost always is free. You should come prepared with a list of questions. Ask the attorney(s) the same set of questions so you can compare the answers. The list of questions should include the following:
- How long have you been practicing estate planning law?
- Where did you earn your degree?
- How will communication with me be handled?
- How can I best contact you?
- Will a paralegal be my point of contact or will it be you?
- Will updates about my estate plan automatically be sent to me or should I inquire?
- How do you handle billing and what is your rate?
- Is there anything that your rate does not cover?
Also, see the next section about information you should provide at the consult!
Moving Forward with Your Consult and/or Selection
Now it’s time to move forward with the attorney you selected to help you build an estate plan. Contact the chosen attorney’s office immediately to move forward. When you visit with the attorney, be sure you have the following with you:
- A list of your concerns and questions
- A preliminary list of the goals you wish to meet when planning your estate including financial goals as well as family goals (i.e. custody of children, etc.)
- A preliminary list of anyone whom you wish to name in the positions mentioned above & their current contact information (full name, phone number & address)
It is important that you are able to bring as much of the above information as possible to your first estate planning meeting with the lawyer you have chosen. The following documents, while not required at the initial consult, are very helpful in fully preparing your estate plan if they apply as well:
- An updated financial statement, if you have one
- The latest balance(s) from your checking, savings, retirement, and investment accounts
- Any previous estate planning documents you have
- Any martial or prenuptial agreements
- Approximate amounts life insurance policies, retirement plans, and annuities (and if any of them are held in trust or by an LLC, a copy of the statement)
- Contact information for your financial planner, accountant, insurance broker, and other professionals whose services you use
- Contact information for any charities you donate to throughout the year
Collect all of these documents and phone numbers ahead of time. Your lawyer will need them for the estate plan and might even have to contact some of these people to ask questions or inform them of the positions they have been selected to hold based on your decisions.
Estate planning is not something that should be taken lightly. If you do not have an estate plan in place, now is the time to create one. Having a power of attorney, executor, trustee, and guardian in place for the inevitable or for if you become incapacitated will make the situation much easier on your family. Discuss your future with your family honestly. Let them know why they were chosen for a specific position and express your wishes to them before they hear them at the reading of your will.
It’s never too early (and especially never too late) to create an estate plan. You should at least have a basic estate plan (will, power of attorney, health care power of attorney and living will) in place the minute you graduate from college and go out on your own. You can build on the estate plan as you age and as you experience different milestones in your life. These milestones could include getting married, having children, getting divorced, having grandchildren, major promotions, change jobs/careers, moving, buying a house, and other big life changes. Call our office to schedule a consultation with an estate planning lawyer. We serve Guilford, Alamance and Forsyth counties as well as the surrounding area to help you prepare.