Your plans for the future are a big deal – so much so that you shouldn’t trust just anyone to prepare them for you. When it comes to most legal matters, the synergy between a client and an attorney typically has little bearing on the attorney’s ability to deliver the best possible results. In estate planning, things can be a little different because a lawyer must understand you and your goals for the future.
Whether you’re looking for an estate planning attorney or have already researched a few you want to get in touch with, consider your first consultation with any attorney to be an interview. Just as you would interview someone to fill an important role in your company, you should also interview an attorney because they might fill an important role in your life.
With that in mind, read some sample interview questions we’ve compiled below. These should provide you with some direction for what you should ask an attorney and make sure he or she is the right one for you!
What Is Your Primary Practice Area?
Even if you think you know the answer, it’s worth asking an attorney if their primary practice area is estate planning. This might not seem to be that important, but estate planning matters are best handled by someone who focuses on this area of law. If estate planning is their primary focus, chances are they have a more sophisticated understanding of estate planning options that may be available to their clients.
That said, this shouldn’t discount an attorney who practices estate planning along with a potentially related area of law. An attorney who has a tax law can offer a unique perspective on how an estate is taxed and administered, which can be very useful during the planning process.
How Many Years of Estate Planning Practice Do You Have?
This is an important question to ask for a few reasons. For one, it can identify attorneys who have had more opportunities to encounter a variety of clients with needs like yours. It can also indicate that an attorney has had the chance to see their estate planning documents executed when a client became seriously ill or passed away.
It can also help you know which attorneys you’re considering have recently shifted the focuses of their practices onto estate planning. As an example, let’s say you’re in touch with an attorney who says they have 20 years of experience and only practice estate planning. When you ask this question, you might find out that they practiced personal injury litigation for 15 years before deciding to practice estate planning five years ago. If they’re advertising that they have 20 years of experience, it doesn’t hurt to clarify what those years of experience entail.
Do You Assist with Trust Funding?
Having a trust is useless if it’s not properly funded, so it’s important to clarify if and how your attorney can help you with this process.
The way lawyers handle this matter is often unique to the individual. Some attorneys consider titling assets to be part of the trust formation process, others may bill separately for it. Some lawyers may have full-time funding assistants to handle it for them, others can simply provide you with instructions on what to do. It’s also entirely possible that an attorney can prepare a wonderful trust document but provide no guidance whatsoever on how to fund it.
When choosing an attorney, you want to look for one that will assist you with trust funding.
Do You Provide Maintenance & Updating Services?
Estate planning shouldn’t be a one-and-done deal. It can be, but such planning can’t possibly take into account future developments in your life – especially those concerning changes to the structure of your family or acquisition/disposition of assets. Finding an attorney who’s willing to keep in touch through the years can prove to be a priceless feature as life ebbs and flows.
How Are Your Fees Structured?
Surprises can be fun, but no one likes to be surprised by hidden fees. Having a clear understanding of how your attorney bills for his or her services can give you some peace of mind. Many estate planning lawyers offer their services for flat fees, which is ideal for most people because they know what they’re getting up front. Just be sure you understand exactly what a flat fee covers and if there are any additional services required to complete your estate plan.
A Final Question for Yourself
After you’ve interviewed each potential attorney, ask yourself whether or not you can see yourself working with that person. This is a question that’s more about how someone made you feel than anything, so it’s very possible that your answer will come from somewhere in your gut.
You’re probably inclined to choose someone who seems trustworthy, confident, caring, and made you feel comfortable. This is an important feeling to have because you will be sharing some of your most sensitive information with whomever you choose! When this box is ticked, you should then consider all of the attorney’s additional qualities and qualifications to handle your affairs and proceed from there.