How To Hire An Estate Planning Attorney

While it is possible to draft simple estate planning documents using do-it-yourself legal resources, the American Bar Association generally does not recommend doing so. This is largely due to the hidden and ever-changing subtleties of tax and estate laws. If you’re considering doing your estate planning on your own, you’ll want to look closely at the complexity of your assets and needs. Do you own real estate in multiple states or overseas? Do you want to leave a portion of your estate to charity? Is your estate liable for federal estate taxes? Is there conflict or discord among you family members? If you have minimal assets all located in one state and one closely related beneficiary, it may be possible to draft a simple will by yourself. Whether you’re planning to go the DIY route, or you anticipate you’ll need legal help with estate planning, you should take advantage of a local estate planning attorney’s free consultation services to learn the potential costs and benefits of using a lawyer. Here’s what else you can do to find and hire the best attorney for planning your estate

  1. Check up on attorneys’ specialized estate planning credentials.
  2. Take advantage of an initial consultation to ask about the attorney’s estate planning expertise.
  3. Understand the lawyer’s fee structure, and the cost of document filings.
  4. Be prepared to answer lots of questions in the attorney’s initial interview.
  5. Be aware of changes in IRS rules that relate to estate planning attorney fees.
  6. Don’t forgo hiring an estate planning attorney just because you have a CPA.
  7. Ask the attorney to fully explain living trusts, and the benefits or potential drawbacks of a living trust for you.

Check up on attorneys’ specialized estate planning credentials.

Depending on your specific estate circumstances (such as the size of your estate and potential tax liability), and estate planning goals, you may benefit from more specialized knowledge. When starting your search for an attorney:

  • Visit attorneys’ business websites to see areas of practice, client testimonials, and notable case results.
  • Search on the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys’ website to confirm that a prospective attorney specializes in estate planning and is licensed in your state.
  • Look for Accredited Estate Planner certification from the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils. Attorneys, CPAs and financial advisors can earn this designation through completion of graduate courses at the American College of Financial Services, and a commitment to ongoing continuing education.
  • Look for Chartered Trust and Estate Planner certification from the American Academy of Financial Management. Attorneys, accountants and business executives with certain advanced degrees can qualify for this designation by taking additional specialized courses.
  • Schedule free consultations with prospective attorneys, and ask about their rates, background, and years of experience.

Take advantage of an initial consultation to ask about the attorney’s estate planning expertise.

When planning for the management and maintenance of your wealth and assets after you are gone, you want an attorney who will ensure that your wishes and directives are fulfilled. Consider asking attorney candidates these questions:

  1. Is estate planning your specialty?
  2. How many years of estate planning experience do you have?
  3. How knowledgeable are you about the different facets of estate planning (this can include trusts, elder law, real estate, and minimizing probate-related issues)?
  4. What are your rates, and how do you charge?
  5. Will you follow up with me annually or semi-annually for plan maintenance, and is there a fee for this?
  6. How extensive is your experience with reducing estate tax liability?
  7. If I need you to, will you work with my other financial and tax advisors?
  8. Will you assist me in communicating my estate plans with my family members?

Understand the lawyer’s fee structure, and the cost of document filings.

Estate planning attorneys may charge a flat fee or by the hour, with costs varying depending on the lawyer and each client’s unique needs. Flat fees are often used for drafting documents and can range from a few hundred dollars to over $1,000. Hourly rates may depend on the attorney’s location and experience but generally expect to see rates starting at $250 an hour.

Be prepared to answer lots of questions in the attorney’s initial interview.

When you first meet with an estate planning attorney, before they ever draft a single document or make a recommendation of any kind, they will ask you questions—lots of questions. After all, guiding a person through steps to take in order to ensure that their wealth distribution wishes are met after their passing is a serious responsibility. Both for the protection of the client, and to avoid future conflict or any question of malpractice, the attorney must establish the full picture of assets, family dynamics, and planning goals. Question you will be asked likely will include the following:

  • How did you acquire your wealth?
  • What is your general state of health?
  • Are either or both of your parents still alive?
  • Are you close with your parents?
  • How do you feel about your spouse or partner having a new spouse or partner after you die?
  • How openly do you discuss your finances with your spouse or partner?
  • Do you have children, and if so, do they get along well?
  • Do you have siblings, and if so, do any of them suffer from mental illness or substance abuse?
  • How do you feel about trusts?
  • Do you think children should talk to their parents about estate planning?
  • Do you wish to leave any of your wealth or assets to charity?

You may also be asked about your values, your convictions, your fears, and episodes from your background that may be sensitive or painful. Remember that your estate planner is not prying, but rather asking probing questions to best understand who you are, what the circumstances may be following your death, and how best to ensure that your wishes are met.

Be aware of changes in IRS rules that relate to estate planning attorney fees.

Recently, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act changed IRS rules that previously allowed for the potential itemized deduction of estate planning legal fees. Unless something changes before the rule is set to expire on December 31, 2025, fees paid to estate planning attorneys are no longer tax-deductible. However, people may receive current tax deductions for contributions made to donor-advised funds.

Don’t forgo hiring an estate planning attorney just because you have a CPA.

Depending on the complexity of your estate, the number of beneficiaries, and the potential impact of tax laws on your planning decisions, you may benefit from having both a CPA and an estate planning attorney on your side. An accountant specializes in the intricacies and fluctuations of tax law, and can provide business succession guidance and IRA distribution expertise. An estate planning attorney may be able to address some of these issues as well, but specializes in areas including wills, trusts, elder law, powers of attorney, trust administration and conservatorship. Some attorneys actually are CPAs as well, while others work in tandem with accountants for the benefit of the client, and the client’s heirs.

Ask the attorney to fully explain living trusts, and the benefits or potential drawbacks of a living trust for you.

Estate planners often recommend living trusts to their clients as a way to reduce estate taxes, protect assets and avoid probate—all of which are excellent benefits. But living trusts, also referred to as revocable trusts, do have some potential drawbacks as well. Ask your estate planner these questions to gain a better understanding of whether or not a living trust is right for your estate planning needs:

  • What assets can I hold in a living trust?
  • Will I incur tax liability by transferring real estate into my living trust?
  • When will my minor children have access to assets in my trust?
  • Can I pass assets to my spouse without estate tax liability?
  • Whom should I name as trustee of my living trust?
  • Will a living trust impact my Medicaid nursing home benefits?

Ready to speak to a lawyer? Here’s our list of the best estate planning attorneys near you.

 Disclaimer

The materials provided in this article are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. Use of and access to this article or any of the links contained in the article do not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the user or browser. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.