What to Look for in an Estate Attorney

Although we may not like to admit it, making plans for the eventuality of our passing ensures that our family’s needs are met in our absence. Whether you are in your 30s with young children to raise or you are an independently wealthy senior citizen, the peace of mind that follows outlining your wishes in a last will and testament or a living trust should not be underestimated.

In the event of your passing, having a comprehensive last will in place ensures that the decisions surrounding the inheritance terms of your estate and where to find your assets have already been made and documented. Attorneys assist their clients in planning for their own passing and help outline your wishes, should you become mentally or physically unable to advocate for yourself.

So, what do you need to look for in an estate attorney? Are they all the same? There are several questions that you should be asking as you interview estate attorneys and determine which will best suit your personal needs.

Area of Focus

It is important to discuss your attorney’s primary area of focus in his or her practice. This is because, like many professions, estate law is continuously evolving, and it falls on the attorney to maintain current knowledge of this evolution to ensure that she can provide the best possible outcomes for her clients. If the lawyer is unaware of new developments or precedent setting cases, errors could occur that would cause the court to deem your will invalid. Questions you might consider asking a prospective attorney include:

  • How long have you been practicing?
  • Is your practice focused on estate law exclusively?
  • If yes, how long have you been practicing in this area?
  • What kind of clients do you typically serve?

Associated Fees

In order to ensure that you are financially able to undertake work with a lawyer, it is important to have an outline of the fee structure upfront. While some estate/probate attorneys charge a flat fee for service, others will charge based on the outcome of the file. If your lawyer charges a flat fee, it may be a good idea to ask how many times, or in what frequency, you will have contact with them and whether they are accessible for client questions.

How do you feel after interacting?

Since working with an estate attorney involves divulging private information about your family’s finances and assets, it is important to select an estate attorney whose communication style makes you feel comfortable and at ease.

Look for indications that the lawyer that you are considering is actively listening to your needs and meeting those needs with expert insight. If you had to wait an hour in the waiting room despite having an appointment, found yourself having to repeat your list of assets, or left the meeting feeling dismissed, you may want to continue searching for the right attorney for your needs. Your interactions with your lawyer should leave you feeling reassured and confident in the attorney’s abilities.

Willingness to go Above and Beyond

If you have various assets spread across different locations, it may be important to find out whether your lawyer is willing to travel to conduct important business with various institutions, such as banks, on your behalf.

When Paul died, he left behind a widow and their son. Since Alice and Paul married later in life, Alice was unaware of various assets that he had accumulated in the years prior. To her surprise, Paul’s lawyer was also unaware of several of these assets.  

Alice turned to Inherit More™ to investigate and collect Paul’s assets. We got to work and much to Alice’s pleasant surprise, we found a bank account and a safe deposit box containing a stack of US savings bonds with a value of more than 30k. We also found a deed to land in Arizona that Paul bought as an investment a number of years before his passing. The property was still in his name, which meant that Alice inherited that as well.

Finding and converting into cash the assets we found was not easy and would have taken so much of Alice’s time and emotional energy. We had to contact and haggle with a number of banks and other financial institutions, and in order to cash in the bonds, we had to go to a bank branch to complete the paperwork for each one.

Planning Ahead

Your will will be in place until you die or amend it, which could be many decades from now. Your family will want to know that your file has been retained despite changing personnel due to attrition or retirement. For example, if your lawyer is independent, what is their succession plan leading up to retirement? Or, is there a larger team that can help with this file if required?

Planning ahead and asking the right questions of the experts is one of the most important parts of planning your estate. With a comprehensive will or living trust in place, your loved ones will have increased security when you pass, and less time and energy will need to be devoted by the Executor in order to bring the probate process to a close.

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