Author: Nick Prigitano
No one likes talking about death. But as Ben Franklin said, the only two certainties in life are death and taxes. Although we may not enjoy talking about it, this is an incredibly crucial part of anyone's financial plan. Especially since you won't be here to make sure your wishes are carried out! That's why it is so important to have a clear estate plan in place, and the right people filling those roles so that when you're gone your wishes are carried out the way you intended. But where do you start? After you have some sort of idea of what your wishes will be, it is crucial that you find a qualified estate planning attorney to set those wishes into action. In this post we will discuss the top things you should look for and do before you choose an estate planning attorney.
Are they part of a professional organization?
A great place to start is by searching for an attorney who focuses on estate planning and is part of an organization for this field. A common organization is the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA). They have a handy "Find a Lawyer" button right on the homepage to begin your search. Even if an attorney is part of NAELA, that does not mean that they are perfectly qualified, and it is important to do more research, but this is a good first step.
Just Google it
In the digital era information is right at our fingertips at any moment of the day. After you have found a few potential attorneys be sure to do a quick Google search before asking to set up an appointment. Taking the extra 5 minutes to search for the attorney can help weed out any potential unqualified individuals. Have they had any complaints against them? How long have they been practicing? Do they work in other fields besides just estate planning? These are some important questions to ask, and a quick search can help answer them.
What does their website look like?
While my mother always told me to never judge a book by its cover, sometimes the cover can tell you a lot about what arrangement you may be getting in to. Do they have a website do begin with, does it look professional, does it clearly show what they do, etc.? While a fancy looking website shouldn't be an immediate sell, having a disorganized unprofessional website could be a sign of how they handle their business as well. It is a best practice to review what they do and who they work with. Do they specialize in special needs, the highly affluent, or just basic Wills? Although they might be qualified, are they a best fit for your needs? The website can help clarify the services you can expect and whether they might be right for you.
How did they organize the meeting?
Estate planning and the legal jargon associated with it can be overwhelming. When you met with an attorney, did they speak over your head and you left with more questions than answers? It is important to work with someone where you understand how the documents work and how they fulfill your goals. It is also vital that they listen to your wishes. For instance, did the attorney have tunnel vision on saving taxes, when your main purpose is simplicity and paying taxes was not a main concern? You want to work with someone who understands what your goals are and finds the best way to implement them.
Coordinate with your financial advisor
If you are currently working with a financial advisor, have them look over the draft documents before you sign on the dotted line. While not all financial advisors are experts in estate planning, they should be familiar enough with any red flags, and at the very least, understand your wishes. They should be able to review the documents and at a high level understand if the documents are meeting your goals. If you're having trouble finding an attorney, your financial advisor will likely be able to refer you to someone in your area that they have worked with before. As a plus, some advisors will even offer to attend the estate planning meeting with you. That can be a useful safety net because what you don't know can hurt you, and your advisor may have a better idea of what questions to ask.
As ironic as it is, a complete estate plan could be one of the most important things in your financial life! While these tips are not an end all list of everything that you should do, it is a good place to start. If you have a financial advisor, they should be working with you on your estate plan, and can make this process much easier.