An estate plan is one of the most important legal documents you will create in your lifetime. Estate planning is for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you are single, married, divorced, remarried, have kids, adopted kids, or don’t have any kids. An estate plan outlines in detail your wishes in various areas of your life, including how you are to be cared for if you become incapacitated, where your assets are to go upon your death, and who will be named guardians of your minor children.
Failing to create an estate plan is a recipe for disaster. That’s why the team at Apple Payne Law has built this list for finding an estate planning lawyer. You shouldn’t just work with the first lawyer you find online. It’s important to obtain recommendations from family members, read reviews, and have consultations with a few lawyers before making your decision. An estate plan is too important to put in just anyone’s hands.
Ask for a Personal Referral
One of the most effective ways to find an estate planning lawyer is to ask for a personal referral. Talk to your family members and friends who have already create their estate plan. Find out who they used. Ask them the following questions:
- Were you happy with the lawyer?
- What was their fee?
- What was their turnaround time?
- Did they answer your questions?
- Did they return phone calls and emails in a timely manner?
- Do they offer remote consultations?
- Would they recommend this attorney to a friend or family member?
- What was it they didn’t like about the attorney?
A personal recommendation speaks volumes about the ability of the attorney to provide superior service to his or her clients.
Talk to Your Specialists
You more than likely work with an accountant and a financial planner. Both of these specialists should have contacts in the legal field, especially in the estate planning practice area. Ask each one for a few recommendations. Estate planning attorneys work with accountants and financial planners all the time. Find one who has a strong working relationship with your specialists or ones they recommend working with even if they haven’t worked with them in a while.
Talk to An Attorney from Another Practice Area
Have you worked with an attorney in the personal injury, real estate, or business law practice areas? If so, there’s nothing wrong with asking one of these attorneys for a referral to an estate planning attorney. They will undoubtedly have connections they can refer to you, some of whom might work in their firm.
Explore Your State or Local Bar Association
It might not be a bad idea to explore your state or local bar association when looking for an estate planning lawyer. There might even be a referral service set up with the association. Either way, the bar association will be able to provide you with a directory of all registered and licensed estate planning attorneys in your area.
Schedule Multiple Consultations
Again, it’s important that you meet with at least a few of the estate planning attorneys who have been recommended. This is done via a consultation, which almost always is free. You should come prepared with a list of questions. Ask each attorney the same set of questions so you can compare the answers. The list of questions should include the following:
- How long have you been practicing estate planning law?
- Where did you earn your degree?
- How will communication with me be handled?
- How can I best contact you?
- Will a paralegal be my point of contact or will it be you?
- Will updates about my estate plan automatically be sent to me or should I inquire?
- How do you handle billing and what is your rate?
- Is there anything that your rate does not cover?
Review Your Notes and Recommendations
After you have attended a consultation with at least three different estate planning lawyers, it’s time to whittle the list down to your final choice. You should review the notes you took at each consultation carefully and compare them between the attorneys. Compare the attorneys based on the following information:
- Their ratings on various websites
- The testimonials posted on their own websites
- Their rates
- Their communication methods
- If you will be in direct contact with the attorney or a paralegal
- Any other pertinent information
You should balance your decision with the personal recommendations you received. You should not base the decision solely on the notes you took at the consultations. Personal recommendations should be highly rated when coming to a decision, especially if multiple people you trust recommended the same lawyer for estate planning.
Move Forward with Your Selection
Now it’s time to move forward with the attorney you selected to help you build an estate plan. Contact this attorney immediately to schedule an appointment. When you visit with the attorney, be sure you have the following with you:
- A list of your concerns and questions
- An updated financial statement
- The latest statements from your checking, savings, retirement, and investment accounts
- The deed to your home and any other property you own
- Any previous estate planning documents you have
- Any martial or prenuptial agreements
- Copies of life insurance policies, retirement plans, and annuities
- Contact information for your financial planner, accountant, insurance broker, and other professionals whose services you use
- Contact information for your physician and any other medical specialists you see
- Contact information for family members and anyone whom you name as trustee, executor, guardian, or power of attorney
- A preliminary list of anyone whom you wish to name in the positions mentioned above
- A preliminary list of the goals you wish to meet when planning your estate
- Contact information for any charities you donate to throughout the year
It is important that you are able to bring as much of this information as possible to your first estate planning meeting with the lawyer you have chosen. If not, you will be wasting your time. Collect all of these documents and phone numbers ahead of time. Your lawyer will need them for the estate plan and might even have to contact some of these people to ask questions or inform them of the positions they have been selected to hold based on your decisions.
Estate planning is not something that should be taken lightly. If you do not have an estate plan in place, now is the time to create one. Having a power of attorney, executor, trustee, and guardian in place for the inevitable or for if you become incapacitated will make the situation much easier on your family. Discuss your future with your family honestly. Let them know why they were chosen for a specific position and express your wishes to them before they hear them at the reading of your will.
It’s never too early to create an estate plan. You should at least have a Will in place the minute you graduate from college and go out on your own. You can build on the Will as you age and as you experience different milestones in your life. These milestones include getting married, having children, getting divorced, having grandchildren, and much more. Call the office of Apple Payne Law in Kernersville, North Carolina, to schedule a consultation with an estate planning lawyer.