Almost every one of us is willing to pass on our assets – inherited or accumulated – to the next generation. Though on the surface, the transfer seems to be easy, the reality is quite different and many cases involve some unpleasant incidents. The best way to ensure an incident-free transfer of your property to your beneficiaries is to consult with an estate planning attorney. Working with anyone will not bring you the results you may want or need. In fact, choosing the wrong attorney will slap you hard with unnecessary troubles and expenses that could have been easily avoided with the help of an honest and hard-working expert.
Here are 10 queries to make sure that you are hiring the right person:
#1. Experience in dealing with estates and trusts: It is not that all novices are bad. However, you will surely want to hire someone who has experience of at least three years in the field. Experience is a valuable asset for any attorney, whether the person is a generalist or has specialization in estate planning. The more experienced the lawyer is, the more the professional will have opportunities to see necessary documents in action if a client dies or becomes disabled.
#2. Time to complete your estate planning project:Most cases don’t need the planner to hurry. The challenge is to dodge the probate process.
#3. Planning documentation for review: Ask the lawyer if he/she will send you the documental for a review. Even if he is the most experienced and renowned professional in his field, you will like to review the documents to make sure that everything is in order as planned. To err is human and even the highly skilled person commits mistake.
#4. Assistance in funding assets into cancellable living trust: Not all estate planning lawyers will be ready to help you with funding trust. As long as you are alive, you should get the assets titled in your name.
Many estate planning lawyers draft full-proof estate plans on their clients’ request but miserably fail to help them with other important works. Unless your assets are titled in the name of a revocable trust in your lifetime, even a well-drafted trust carries no value after your death. Some lawyers have funding departments or full-time funding assistants committed to your work whereas some will provide comprehensive instructions in writing.
Unfortunately, there are many estate planning attorneys who will explain importance of funding but provide no guidance. It is most unlikely that you will be able to do all of your necessary funding work on your own. That is why, it is important to work with an attorney who will supervise the funding procedure. You may have to pay a little extra to the attorney for the work.
#5. Formal updating and maintenance: Many estate planning lawyers keep their work limited to only one-time transaction. They prepare the documents as per the clients’ requests and that’s all! But you need more than that and the realization will dawn upon you only with the passage of time.
Some lawyers will do an annual or semi-annual review for a small fee. A maintenance program is important to update and accommodate changes as per revised laws and taxes. They inform their clients about even minor changes in the estate planning laws, explain those, ask about changes requiring modifications in the documents and review how the clients’ funding progresses.
Working with an estate planning lawyer who offers service for formal maintenance and regular updates will relive you of headache in the long run. It will make sure that your plan will always remain up to date as required.
#6. Fixed price for estate planning: A fixed price is definitely what you prefer. Some estate planning lawyers charge per hour and they are unlikely to act in favour of your best interest. Some attorneys switch their fees from a fixed rate to hourly rate beyond a particular amount of work. Ask the attorney about his fee structure, otherwise there are chance to come in for some shocking surprises down the road.
#7. Possibility of assistance in absence of the attorney: Most real estate planning attorneys are available to their clients. Still you should ask if someone will help in case, the attorney is absent for a few days.
#8. Help for unexpected issues related to estate planning: Is the attorney ready to go the extra length to help his clients? A resounding ‘yes’ will give you a peace of mind that you are working with a person you can rely on during adversities having relevance to your estate plans.
#9. If estate planning a priority: Estate planning should be the priority of your lawyer. So, look forward to a convincing ‘yes’ if the lawyer is asked the question.
Most people think why they should approach a specialist if they need a simple will, health care documents or power of attorney. Still, working with a skilled, sophisticated and seasoned lawyer for the right documentation of your estate planning has some advantages.
Some attorneys provide a wider range of service including simple estate planning. They are fine to work with if the problem does not involve complexities .If you have a taxable estate or complex family or financial condition, you should choose a lawyer whose area of practice is focused on estate tax reduction and planning.
#10. How to avoid the probate process: Any attorney taking you towards probate and will is more interested in his fees than his client’s estate planning. The probate process takes time. In addition, it is expensive as well. Any good estate planning attorney will always take you towards a living trust as the professional has the right intention to help his client.
Even if an attorney satisfactorily answers all of the above-stated questions, still you should take time to finalize your decision. Remember that you are sharing the most important and intimate details with the person. If you ever feel uncomfortable while working closely with the person, there are chances that you will not be able to trust him/her fully.
No single situation is like others. But these are the common questions that you should ask any estate planning lawyer to get a clear idea if the professional is up to your work. If the attorney is the best option for your purpose, he/she will be the best fit for your life partner and children as well.
Once mistrust develops, you will tend to hold back some important information and the attorney will not be able to do proper planning. Realizing in the primary stage that the attorney is a wrong fit for your estate planning is better than discovering this after spending a great deal of your time and money.