Finding the right estate planning attorney is a lot like looking for a specialist in any field. They don’t have to be your best friend, but they must inspire confidence that they are looking out for you and your family.
There are a number of ways to find an estate planning attorney, from asking a friend or co-worker to contacting the local bar association for a recommendation. However, the same person who is a good fit for your friend, may not be the right attorney for you. While a referral from friends can be a good start, it may not be enough to cultivate a successful working relationship.
- Identify the type of estate planning attorney needed. Many people can use the services of an estate planning attorney to draft wills, powers of attorney, and basic trusts. However, some situations require an attorney with certain focuses. For example, those who are concerned about maximizing benefits for beneficiaries with special needs or who are interested in programs like Medicaid or addressing long-term care may want a practitioner who concentrates in elder law.
- Find the attorney’s educational credentials online. At the introductory meeting, ask procedural questions rather than asking for specific legal advice. You may want to ask about topics such as relevant experience, preferred methods of communication and points of contact, billing practices and whether the attorney has the bandwidth (capacity) to work on your issues.
- Make an assessment after the meeting. After the interview, assess how the meeting went. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Did she respond in a timely manner?
- Did you understand the answers she gave you?
- Did you feel comfortable asking follow-up questions?
If you weren’t totally comfortable with this first meeting, you may never develop the type of open conversation that’s critical to have with your estate planning attorney. You don’t need your estate planning attorney to be your best friend, but you do need to trust them with your family’s future. If one does not suit you, continue looking until you find one who is a good fit.
- Move ahead. If you felt good and liked the attorney’s approach, go ahead and move forward.
- Talk up front about fees. A well-run practice will present you with a clearly written fee engagement letter that describes in detail the services they will provide to you and your family and their fee structure. If this document is not presented to you, ask the attorney to prepare a letter that indicates what services will be provided and what the cost will be. If you have any questions or things aren’t clear, ask questions. Keep asking until you understand all the information.
An estate planning attorney is going to help you with a very personal part of your life: your family, your possessions and ideally, your legacy. Take the time to develop a relationship that will serve you and your family as you mature and the family changes and develops. Our firm at Grimaldi and Yeung aims to provide this relationship.
Reference: San Francisco Business Times (January 4, 2019) “Guide to finding an estate planning attorney who is right for you”