When we started this journey into the world of estate planning, we began to learn how to approach estate planning, certain concepts about wills and other documents and why estate planning is unique to each client. Here in Chapter 5 we discuss how to select a qualified estate planning attorney to assist you with your estate plan.
Selecting a qualified estate planning specialist is important for the following reasons:
- While many attorneys will do a will or power of attorney for you, they may not be specializing in the field of estate planning. Not being a specialist limits the attorney's skill set and prevents you from the benefits of the advice of a qualified expert.
- Working with a specialist gives you the best chance to get it right the first time. For example, would you let your dentist do your heart surgery? The idea is to treat attorneys the same as doctors; deal with the right specialist for the job at hand. Here is an article I wrote on this very topic that illustrates this point: Dealing with Specialists in Estate Planning As you will learn in ths chapter, not only is dealing a specialist attorney important to your family and you, there are simple steps to follow so you can find the right one.
- Learn the process of choosing the right estate planning attorney. Many people mistakenly rely on a referral service such as you might have in your community. These lists are dangerous and usually hazardous to your estate plan. Referral lists are usually paid services that charge people to be listed. They do not vet the people they list and this permits someone with no true expertise and experience to call themselves an estate planner when, in fact, they are not. When you follow the steps laid out below, you can steer clear of these problems.
These images show an estate planning meeting in progress. Here are the steps these people used to find their estate planning attorney:
1. Interview and ask for referral from other professionals.
One of the best ways to locate an estate planning specialist is to ask around. Ask your CPA, your banker, your life insurance agent. Professionals know who the experts are and getting referrals from other professionals you already trust is a good starting point.
Interview each person. Insist on a free consultation via phone before you make an appointment. Remember that your estate planning meeting will usually have a charge, so do those phone consultations first.
2. Insist on real estate planning experience and expertise.
As mentioned above, do not use or rely on any referral listing service, radio or TV or internet ads. The attorney you speak with should have, at a minimum the following qualifications:
A. Full time estate planning specialization for at least the last 7 consecutive years. Estate planning is not an area for part timers or people who wear other hats.
B. Membership in the State Bar Association Trust and Estate Section.
C. An AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell, the international attorney rating service. These ratings are peer ratings and cannot be purchased by the attorney. The AV rating is the highest rating for ability and professionalism an attorney can achieve.
While these qualifications are not difficult to have, you should insist on them when you are choosing your estate planning attorney.
3. Have a clear understanding before beginning how the attorney bills and the time frame for completion of your estate plan.
As we are exploring in this book, there are several integrated steps in every client's estate plan. Make sure you are clear what those steps will be for you, how many meetings to expect, the time frame for the process and each step, what your homework between each meeting is, and how the attorneys fees and costs will work.
Once you have selected your estate planning attorney and understand the process for your estate plan, it is time to begin. In our next chapter, we start our discussion of the components of every estate plan and begin to dissect the tools of estate planning such as wills, trusts and related documents.
I hope you are enjoying this book on estate planning. Since the book is published in this interactive format, we are able to adjust our content as we proceed based on your comments. Please feel free to comment and offer suggestions as they are greatly appreciated. Thank you.
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