When choosing an attorney to represent you during the estate-planning process, there are certain questions you will need to ask that will help you find the best legal partner. If your financial advisor hasn’t approached the subject of estate planning with you, be sure to bring it up with him or her during your next appointment.
While you’re at it, ask your advisor who completed his or her own personal estate plan. A referral from another attorney, financial advisor or CPA you know could be the best advice you ever got. Here is some more important advice when looking for an estate planning attorney.
Starting Your Search
It’s important that you don’t limit your search geographically. While your attorney should be licensed in your state, you don’t want to limit your options based on the attorney’s area code or mailing address. However, when searching online for legal representation, beware of internet “directories” that promise to set you up with a qualified lawyer. These are often paid ads that won’t necessarily set you up with the most qualified candidate.
If you are going to vet out an attorney online, use sites that are third-party verified. This means that they are not paid to list the attorney and the attorney is ranked based on certain criteria.
Estate Planning Expertise
There are many attorneys who say that they do estate planning, and many of them do. However, the real question to ask is, “Do you practice exclusively in this area of the law?” Just as there are doctors who specialize in certain areas of medicine, there are attorneys who are generalists and those who limit their practices to a specific area of law, such as estate planning. The ones who are specially trained are more likely to correctly identify areas that could be problems for you down the road if the proper planning is not done.
If the attorney holds a legal malpractice insurance policy, this is a sign of accountability. Anyone can make a mistake and you should not make the mistake of hiring an attorney who does not have malpractice insurance. Remember, in many states, an attorney is not required to carry malpractice insurance. Don’t get burned.
Ask About Law School, Associations
Law schools that are harder to get into typically have higher standards and only accept the best applicants, so it’s important to research your attorney’s education background. For reference, there are four tiers in the law school ranking system, with the first tier being the hardest to get into.
Membership in professional organizations also demonstrates a certain level of expertise that comes from extensive education and networking with industry peers. You want to make sure your attorney is current on the law, and that he or she can provide the best planning techniques to protect you and your family during a difficult and often emotional process.