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How to Choose a Lawyer?

Choosing an estate planning lawyer to work with is a personal experience. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve hired them for a business issue, a family law matter, a personal injury concern, or an employment-related question, great care should be taken when choosing your advocate. With that in mind, creating an estate plan is an extremely personal and often emotional undertaking. Your estate planning attorney will know more about you than in some cases, your best friend. Therefore, your attorney should be someone, that at a minimum, you trust.

Factors to Take Into Account When Choosing a Lawyer.

Below are some things to consider when choosing a lawyer:

  1. Make sure they are experienced in estate planning.
    You might think this is a no-brainer, but surprisingly many people think all lawyers know everything about every area of law. For example, my website and profiles all say clearly that my practice areas are estate planning and intellectual property (copyrights and trademarks). Yet, I am amazed at how often I get calls for personal injury, bankruptcy, employment, real estate, and my favorite—criminal law. Think of it like this, if you needed a gynecologist would you hire a pulmonologist or a podiatrist, or a proctologist? It’s doubtful. 
  2. Why did they pick estate planning as their practice area?
    While not a requirement, it’s always a good idea to know why someone chooses estate planning as a practice area. It helps you get a sense of who they are. Because at its core, estate planning is a personal endeavor. Some estate planning attorneys were influenced by personal experiences. Understanding their reasoning gives you a peek into how they practice law. Are they passionate or is it just a job?  Are they detailed focused, or do they just cut and paste, or just fill in the blanks?
  3. What is their process?
    How do they work with clients? What is their process? If you are new to estate planning, the process can be daunting, especially if you don’t know what to expect. For that reason, having a sense, even a general sense of what to expect can help allay any fears you might have.  And, not all lawyers are created equal.  They may vary by years of experience, age, competence level, in what state they practice, their level of comfort, their fees, and so much more. Also, some lawyers like to meet in person; others work primarily by phone and in a virtual setting.  Some have clients review their documents several times to ensure that they understand what they are signing; other lawyers prepare one version and have the client sign. When it is a trust-based estate plan, some lawyers prefer to handle the funding of the trust themselves; others may handle just the primary residence and charge extra for additional assets. These are questions you should ask, so there are no surprises.
  4. What information does the lawyer need from you?
    Knowing what the lawyer needs from you is essential. For your estate plan to be complete, you must provide accurate and reliable information to the attorney.  Your plan is as useful as the information it’s based on. If you are less than truthful with your attorney, by failing to disclose relevant information, you upset the entire process. Such necessary information includes bank accounts, brokerage accounts, real estate, valuable tangible personal property, outstanding debts, and intellectual property. In addition, who will you choose to be your trustee, executor, agent for healthcare, your agent for finance, and their successors? These are just a few of the important pieces of information your attorney will need to know.

Francine D. Ward
Attorney-At-Law, Author, Speaker

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