Table of Contents Hide
- What Does an Estate Planning Attorney Do?
- Steps In Finding an Estate Planning Attorney
- Questions to Ask Your Potential Estate-Planning Attorney
- #1. Is estate planning your top concern?
- #2. How long have you been doing this?
- #3. Do you perform regular audits?
- #4. Can you assist me in putting together a comprehensive estate plan that includes wills, trusts, and life insurance?
- #5. How do you charge your fees?
- #6. What are your thoughts on a revocable living trust?
- #7. What other concerns do you have?
- #8. How much time will it take you to finish my estate-planning project?
- #9. Will you email me estate-planning paperwork to review?
- #10. Will anyone else in your office be able to discuss my concerns while you are away?
- Some thoughts for you
- How Much is the Cost of Hiring an Estate Planning Attorney?
- How to Find an Estate Planning Attorney
- Estate Planning Attorney Certifications
- Estate Planning Attorney FAQ’s
- How much does an estate planning attorney cost?
- What is the difference between a probate attorney and an estate planning attorney?
- Can I do my own estate planning?
- At what age should you do estate planning?
Estate planning attorneys, also known as estate law attorneys or probate attorneys, are experienced and licensed legal professionals who are well-versed in the state and federal rules that govern how your estate will be inventoried, valued, distributed, and taxed after your death. Finding an attorney to assist you in creating your estate plan may be difficult. However, if you have a clear plan, the procedure may be easier than you think. Learn more about the estate planning process, cost, and what it takes to find an attorney.
What Does an Estate Planning Attorney Do?
An estate planning attorney is a lawyer who focuses on estate planning issues. These lawyers have the same certifications as those who specialize in mergers and acquisitions or personal injury lawsuits. Regardless of specialty, they must pass the bar exam in the state where they practice.
The distinction is seen in the specialization that estate planning lawyers get through years of experience working on diverse estate planning challenges. An estate planning lawyer’s responsibilities can be many, but they always revolve around one goal: assisting clients in planning for the end of life and the financial legacy they will leave.
This aid might come in a variety of forms. Most notably, estate planning attorneys can assist you in drafting a final testament and establishing a trust. Your estate planning attorney can also help you reduce any estate or inheritance taxes. They can also help the executor of your will transfer assets to your beneficiaries after you die. They can also assist with probate if it becomes necessary.
Furthermore, an estate planning attorney can assist you in ensuring that you are prepared for end-of-life scenarios in which you are unable to make your own decisions. Typically, this will entail appointing power of attorney, drafting a living will, or creating any other type of advance directive. A qualified estate planning lawyer can act as a legal guide through all areas of preparing for the end of life.
An estate planning attorney can help you with the following responsibilities in addition to teaching you about the probate process:
- Making a Will
- Choosing your beneficiaries
- Making a medical durable power of attorney and a durable power of attorney for property
- Finding ways to reduce and avoid estate tax whenever possible
- Finding methods to avoid the probate court process
- Creating any trusts you may require to protect your assets, both for your own advantage during your lifetime and for the benefit of your beneficiaries after your death.
Estate planning attorneys frequently charge a flat fee to assist you in creating legally binding documents such as wills and durable powers of attorney, but they can also be hired on an hourly basis to assist you in maintaining your estate, acting on your behalf to handle disputes when necessary, and ensuring that your will is carried out according to plan when required.
An estate planning attorney can also help anyone with power of attorney over a recently deceased person’s estate navigate the probate court process. A good estate planning attorney may be able to help you avoid probate court entirely, but this is largely dependent on the type of assets in the deceased’s estate and how they can be legally transferred.
If a beneficiary (or even an individual who has not been designated as a beneficiary) announces that he or she intends to contest the will and sue the estate of a deceased family member or loved one from which you stand to benefit, it may be in your best interest to consult an estate planning attorney immediately. Such lawsuits can quickly deplete the estate’s assets and leave all beneficiaries feeling a little worse for wear.
Steps In Finding an Estate Planning Attorney
Finding an attorney to assist you in creating your estate planning may be difficult. However, if you have a clear plan, the procedure may be easier than you think. So, getting organized and having a system is half the battle in estate planning, and that includes finding an attorney. In reality, more than half of Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 do not have a will in place today.
These three steps can assist you in streamlining the process of finding an attorney who is a good fit for you.
#1. Look for candidates
Begin by determining what you want to achieve with your estate strategy. This information will assist you in determining the type of attorney you will require.
Most people require the assistance of a generalist to prepare a will, powers of attorney, and basic trusts. However, certain situations necessitate the use of attorneys with certain specialties. For example, you may have reason to be particularly worried about maximizing benefits programs such as Medicaid or dealing with long-term care, in which case you may want the services of an elder law specialist. If you have financial interests in another country, you may need the assistance of an attorney who specializes in international estate planning. Similarly, if your case necessitates legal work in more than one jurisdiction or state, seek attorneys who are licensed to operate in all of those locations.
Once you’ve determined the type of attorney you require, you may start compiling a list of probable candidates. Begin by asking reliable friends and family members for recommendations. Word of mouth is always one of the finest methods. If they’ve had a poor encounter, they’ll tell you. Consult with your coworkers’ financial professionals, such as financial consultants, accountants, insurance agents, and bankers. They might be able to recommend attorneys they know and trust.
#2. Conduct interviews with your prospects
Once you’ve limited your list down to a few applicants, confirm their state bar registration status and then contact them about an interview. An interview with an attorney may or may not be charged. Bring all of the information you will need to your first appointment (in person or through video conference), including your estate planning summary from the Fidelity Estate Planner and any supporting documentation. Prepare a list of questions to ask prospective attorneys, which should include the following:
- How long have you been doing this?
- Where did you get your education?
- How are you going to communicate with me?
- What are the best ways to get in touch with you?
- Will you be my point of contact, or will someone else, such as a paralegal, be in charge?
- Will you keep me updated on the progress of my strategy, or should I expect to take the initiative?
- How will you bill, and what is your fee (hourly vs. fixed)?
- Is there anything else that isn’t included in that rate?
Remember that this interview is your opportunity to choose an attorney who is a good fit for you. Trust your instincts and find a lawyer with whom you feel at ease. “Don’t be afraid to shop around,” Haley advises. “You must have a solid rapport. If the attorney you’re interviewing makes you feel uneasy during your first contacts, you might never create the type of open communication that is the foundation of a solid working relationship.”
#3. Be aware of each attorney’s fees.
When it comes to hiring an estate planning attorney, one of the most important factors to consider is cost. Keep your budget in mind and look for a lawyer whose prices you can afford.
Some attorneys provide a free consultation, while others do not. Some provide a free consultation for a set period, such as the first hour, and then begin charging. Before the initial meeting, find out what each attorney’s policy is.
Fee structures for creating an estate plan might also differ. Some attorneys charge a flat fee, while others charge by the hour. Typically, flat prices cover everything needed to draft the estate planning documents. Simple estate plans, which include a will, power of attorney, and medical directives, can cost in price from $1,000 to $2,500. More complicated plans, such as ones that involve trust paperwork, may cost $5,000 or more. Individual rates may differ depending on jurisdiction and state, as well as other reasons.
Hourly prices are typically between $200 and $300 per hour; however, individual rates may vary depending on jurisdictions and states, as well as other criteria such as the firm’s size. It should be noted that it is customary for attorneys who bill hourly to bill in increments of no less than 6 minutes, or one-tenth of an hour.
Other expenses for specific duties, such as web research, court filings, document copying, or courier fees, may also be charged by an attorney. Before making a decision, inquire about these prospective fees.
After interviewing your candidates, choose the one who best meets your needs, personality, and budget. At this stage, the attorney may provide you an engagement or retainer letter, which is a contract that describes the nature of your legal involvement with them as well as the terms of the agreement you have reached. These conditions cover the fees you will be accountable for as well as how your attorney will be compensated for their work. Following that, your attorney will assist you in creating an estate plan, and you can collaborate to ensure that it meets all of your needs.
Questions to Ask Your Potential Estate-Planning Attorney
The following questions will assist you in learning more about estate planning and determining whether a prospective estate planning attorney is a good fit for you.
#1. Is estate planning your top concern?
Only interview a candidate if they answer “yes” to this question. An estate professional will be up to date on all legal developments and will have the strategic know-how to properly draft your documents in the most effective way possible.
#2. How long have you been doing this?
You should seek out the most experienced attorney possible—one who has seen prepared documents go into effect following the death of a client. Such attorneys will have experienced issues from the courts or the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and will understand how to overcome any obstacles.
Do you truly carry out the plan?
Some lawyers only draft estate planning documents, while others also administer the trusts. In general, it is more effective to employ a lawyer in the latter category, who can ensure that the proper assets are put into the trust.
#3. Do you perform regular audits?
Some estate-planning attorneys will evaluate your affairs semi-annually or annually for a nominal fee. This is vital since changes to your plan may be required if you go through a life transition or a financial shift. New legal modifications may also affect components of your estate planning.
#4. Can you assist me in putting together a comprehensive estate plan that includes wills, trusts, and life insurance?
You may have a variety of wills, trusts, and life insurance policies, and comprehensive estate plans can incorporate all of these. As a result, your estate attorney must be competent in these areas. Your estate attorney may be able to assist you in understanding the complexities of each estate-planning tool and determining which ones are appropriate for you.
#5. How do you charge your fees?
Instead of invoicing by the hour, many estate-planning attorneys charge flat rates. Some offer a flat fee for common services such as establishing trust and then charge an hourly fee for special research work. In any event, it’s a good idea to ask about compensation models ahead of time to avoid unpleasant surprises.
#6. What are your thoughts on a revocable living trust?
Putting assets in a revocable living trust can help you avoid the costly and time-consuming probate process (filing a will with the court). However, because revocable living trusts do not eliminate inheritance, estate, or income taxes, this may not be the best option for everyone. Unfortunately, some lawyers advocate these structures solely to increase their fees.
#7. What other concerns do you have?
As life expectancy rises, so does the likelihood of long-term physical and mental health problems. By drafting powers of attorney, healthcare directives, and living wills, estate attorneys can assist clients in financially preparing for the likelihood of disability or dementia.
#8. How much time will it take you to finish my estate-planning project?
While there is no need to rush, keep in mind that you may want to consult with other specialists, such as accountants, retirement planners, or money managers, about components of your estate plan. While an estate attorney’s skills may overlap with these areas, they are not necessarily general tax experts or financial advisors. Allow yourself ample time to develop a larger, big-picture perspective on your estate strategy and the administrative details of putting it into action.
#9. Will you email me estate-planning paperwork to review?
Even if you’re dealing with an experienced estate-planning attorney, it’s critical to double-check all documents and forms to avoid misunderstandings. Make it clear what can be modified later and what is irreversible.
#10. Will anyone else in your office be able to discuss my concerns while you are away?
While most estate-planning attorneys attempt to be available to their clients at all times, it’s vital to know that if your lawyer is unavailable, an associate or paralegal will be ready to answer questions in an emergency.
Some thoughts for you
Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- How at ease do you feel when talking with a possible estate planning lawyer?
- Is your advisor’s communication clear and effective?
- Do you share their general values? How do you feel about their bedside manner?
- Do you get along well?
- Can you imagine conversing with this person about really intimate matters?
Use your intuition to decide whether a particular estate-planning attorney is a good fit for you. Estate planning can be emotionally and legally complex, so it’s critical to find an attorney who can manage all of its components.
How Much is the Cost of Hiring an Estate Planning Attorney?
For good reason, law firms have a reputation for being pricey. An estate planning attorney’s services are highly specialized, which means you won’t be able to reproduce what they do without years of education and experience. Even if your total cost for hiring an estate planning attorney is high, you can rest assured that your family and estate are in good hands.
When you meet with an estate planning attorney, they will usually explain their rates right away. These can take several forms and combinations, such as initial meeting costs, hourly fees, and fixed fees. Most of the time, the more time your attorney works on your estate, the more money you’ll pay.
Fees will vary from attorney to attorney and state to state. Firms will frequently charge you a start-up fee to meet with the attorney for an hour or so. This is the moment to go over your estate planning needs and see if you’re a suitable fit for each other. If possible, request an estimate ahead of time so that you may readily compare fees with different attorneys.
Longer-term fees for upkeep will most likely apply depending on how early in life you consult with an estate planning attorney. Assume you and your spouse decide to hire a lawyer at the age of 68. If your spouse dies at the age of 75, your estate plan will most likely need to be drastically revised. The same is true if you have another grandchild, for example.
How to Find an Estate Planning Attorney
You should seek referrals from friends and relatives when looking for an estate planning attorney. Their personal experiences will be the best indicator of the quality of any attorney. You can also try contacting your state legal organization or a county or local probate court for a reference. Your financial advisor may also be able to recommend one, as they often have attorneys to whom they refer customers regularly.
A lawyer who specializes in estate planning will not necessarily have any distinguishing certifications or titles. They will instead refer to themselves as estate planning lawyers or estate planning specialists. Their entire practice may be devoted to one specialty. They may also address the areas of estate planning in which they have experience.
You will, of course, need to engage with an estate planning attorney who has passed the bar in your state. When it comes to estate planning, state-specific knowledge is very vital. This is because laws and probate procedures vary by state and location.
On a less technical point, search for an estate planning attorney who makes you feel at ease. After all, this individual will be assisting you in making difficult and emotional decisions. Most of the time, you’ll have to reveal a lot of sensitive information, including your final wishes. If you feel comfortable speaking with your attorney, the entire process will be much smoother.
Estate Planning Attorney Certifications
While an estate planning attorney is not required to have any additional certifications to operate, some choose to do so. Some of these are available to non-lawyers, such as financial advisors or accountants. Knowing what kinds of designations an attorney has can provide insight into what they’re most informed about. This might be a huge discovery if you’re seeking someone to work alongside.
Here are some examples of certifications you may encounter:
Accredited Estate Planner (AEP):
The accredited estate planner title is given by the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils to licensed attorneys, CPAs, chartered life underwriters, and certain other financial professionals. A minimum of five years of estate planning experience is required, as is the completion of two graduate-level courses via the American College of Financial Services and a minimum of 30 hours of continuing education every 24 months, at least half of which must be in estate planning.
Chartered Trust and Estate Planner (CTEP):
The American Academy of Financial Management bestows the Chartered Trust and Estate Planner (CTEP) title. It is necessary to have a degree in finance, taxation, accounting, financial services, or the law. Completion of at least five related courses, completion of a certification training course, and annual continuing education are also required.
Certified Trust and Financial Advisor (CTFA):
The American Bankers Association, in collaboration with the Institute of Certified Bankers, bestows the CTFA title to those who meet specified criteria. This requires three years of wealth management experience, completion of at least one recognized wealth management training program, a letter of recommendation, a signed ethics statement, and 45 hours of continuing education every three years.
From start to finish, estate planning is a complex endeavor with numerous decisions to make. An estate planning attorney can assist you in determining the best plan for your specific situation. You can enter the estate planning process with confidence if you work with a qualified professional. This will give you confidence that your plan is solid, which will only make you feel better.
Estate Planning Attorney FAQ’s
How much does an estate planning attorney cost?
Experienced attorneys may charge $250 to $350 per hour on average to draft more comprehensive estate plans. You could spend several thousand dollars to engage with such an attorney.
What is the difference between a probate attorney and an estate planning attorney?
After a person dies, the process of estate administration is typically handled by a probate attorney. An estate planning attorney, on the other hand, advises living clients on how their estates should be administered. The attorney could accomplish this by assisting clients in the creation of trusts, wills, and other necessary papers.
Can I do my own estate planning?
Most people can create most major estate planning forms on their own, as long as they have dependable, explicit instructions. The same is true for several other estate planning tasks, such as drafting a living will (advance directive) or naming beneficiaries for insurance policies and retirement funds.
At what age should you do estate planning?
When should I make a California estate plan? In most states, you can begin estate planning as soon as you reach 18, and it is a good idea to start as soon as possible. Estate planning is one of the most critical things you can do to safeguard yourself and your hard-earned possessions.
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