Here is a checklist for choosing an estate planning attorney:
1. Is the attorney proficient with the level of planning that you require?
Once you have accumulated an estate of value that can make a substantial difference in the recipient’s life consider using a lawyer who has a practice focused on estate planning. Attorneys who write wills between seeing divorce clients are unlikely to be able to keep up on all the changes in estate laws. An affiliation with a national group such as WealthCounsel or National Network of Estate Planning Attorneys gives the attorney back office support and training with software that reflects the latest changes in the law.
2. Is the attorney someone you can relate to and feel comfortable about revealing your financial information, personal information, and confidential concerns you have about some of your heirs and beneficiaries?
You need a professional that can show empathy for your situation. Someone with values similar to yours, so they understand who you are and what is important to you is a good starting point.
3. Can the attorney provide advice and counsel, yet be willing to draft a plan that addresses your specific concerns?
Some lawyers only draft “simple wills” figuring on probating a safe full of wills to fund their retirement. Other attorneys “sell” trusts touting the benefits of avoiding probate. The reality is that trusts are appropriate for some people and the benefits are far greater than the amount saved by avoiding probate. Alternatively, probate can be completely avoided by joint ownership and gifting, but you lose control over your property while you are alive. The same plan is not appropriate for everyone. As an example, some clients let tax avoidance drive their plans while other clients will pay the taxes to see that their wishes are followed. The attorney's job is to make you aware of the consequences of your decisions, but let your desires be carried out by the documents.
4. Is the attorney providing you with fair value?
A will that fails to address tax concerns may cost your heirs many times what a proper plan would have cost you. A poorly drafted plan may cause family strife and division that is a terrible value no matter how much money is saved in taxes and expenses. Finally, too elaborate of a plan that adds too much complexity to your life is often not the right choice for the client.