Almost half of Americans over the age of 55 don’t have a will. Many people don’t want to think about wills and estate planning at a younger age. Still, it helps to prepare yourself.
Otherwise, you could leave your loved ones with a mess to organize on their own.
Half of the people surveyed fear their lack of end-of-life planning could cause emotional turmoil and problems for their families. By contacting an estate planning attorney, you can get ahead instead of putting your planning off.
Not sure where to start? First, you’ll need to find a qualified, experienced attorney. Here are the eight steps you need to take when searching for an estate planning lawyer.
With these tips, you can find an attorney who has your best interests in mind. Start your search with this helpful guide today.
1. Ask Your Inner Circle
There are over 169,941 estate lawyers and attorneys in the US. Here in Michigan, there are over 35,000! By using this guide, you can find the best estate planning attorney in your area with ease. Otherwise, you might waste valuable time searching, only to end up with someone who lacks the proper qualifications.
First, take the time to speak with people in your inner circle. Talk with your friends, family members, and coworkers. Does someone you know already have an estate planning attorney they trust?
Speaking with people in your inner circle can help streamline your search.
Don’t hire an attorney right off the bat, though. Instead, use the rest of these tips to find the best attorney in the bunch.
Speaking with friends and family members can help you learn from their experiences. Were they satisfied with their choice? Did the attorney help them get their affairs in order?
Would they recommend that same attorney, or someone else?
Ask if they experienced any issues while working with their estate planning lawyer. Were the problems resolved?
Learn as much as you can about their experience to narrow down your list.
2. Other Lawyers or Your Financial Planner
Maybe you worked with another attorney or a financial professional in the past. If you already know and trust a local attorney, call them. Do they have an estate planning lawyer they can recommend? If you are working with financial advisor or someone at a bank, likewise ask them for a referral.
Getting a direct referral is a great way to start a new relationship, and should give you peace of mind.
3. Check Online
If the people in your inner circle can’t point you in the direction, that’s okay. Instead, take your search online. Researching prospective attorneys online can help you learn more about their abilities before you call for a consultation.
First, head over to the Martindale-Hubbell law directory. This directory lists law firms and lawyers in your location. You can visit your local library for access to the directory.
As you research each attorney, read over their profile. Reviewing each attorney’s professional biography can help you learn more about their abilities.
What is their website like? Is it updated, and easy to read and understand? If a local law firm can’t keep their website clean and updated, it really doesn’t say a lot about their dedication to this area of practice.
Start creating a list of prospective lawyers you can contact. The rest of the tips in this guide can help you find the best estate planning attorney on the list.
4. Determine Their Experience
Before hiring an attorney, it’s important to make sure they specialize in wills and estate planning. Otherwise, they might lack the experience and expertise you need. Since people learn from hands-on experience, look for someone who has practiced law over the years.
How long have they worked as a licensed attorney? How long have they specialized in wills and estate planning? Choosing an experienced lawyer can give you peace of mind.
Make sure their experience is recent, too. Did they switch from one specialty to another? If so, why? A lawyer who is still learning and growing might make mistakes or slow down the process. Instead, find an attorney who can handle your estate plan by leveraging years of experience.
What does their writing look like? Have they contributed articles on estate planning to various publications, or even written a book on the topic?
5. Look into Organizations
Is the attorney you are considering a community leader? What local group and organizations do they participate in? Are any charitable? Have they ever held a leadership role? An attorney who has managed a leadership role has likely earned the respect of other community leaders, and is more likely to be around when you need them.
If you want to prioritize finding an experienced, knowledgeable attorney, see if they have any certifications in estate planning. It’s not necessary for a lawyer to have certifications from specific organizations. However, it can tell you more about their expertise.
A lawyer who continues learning and developing their skills is more qualified than others in the area.
6. Consider Costs
Many attorneys offer a free consultation. During this meeting, you can ask questions to help you learn about each attorney.
Don’t hesitate to ask about their fee structure. After all, you want to make sure you can afford their fees before you sign a contract.
When working with a will and estate planning attorney, you might need to ask about their retainer. How will they charge you for their services? Will they charge you before or after they start working on your will?
Do they work on an hourly rate, and if so, how much is it?
You don’t have to sign a contract with the first lawyer you speak with. Instead, make sure to get quotes from different attorneys. Comparing their prices can help you make sure you’re not getting overcharged.
When speaking with different attorneys, make sure they’re honest. If they don’t review the cost of their services, remain wary. You might want to look for another attorney instead.
6. Ask for Reviews and References
About 91% of people regularly read reviews online. Another 84% trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Many people read as many as six online reviews when researching businesses.
Take the same approach as you search for the best estate planning attorney in your area.
Reading reviews can help you learn from someone else’s experience. Try to look for reviews from more than one resource. The reviews on a lawyer’s website are usually hand-picked.
These reviews will likely paint the lawyer in the best possible light.
Instead, check the law firm’s Google My Business and Better Business Bureau listing. Read a handful of reviews to get a well-rounded image of each attorney.
Don’t worry if you find one or two negative reviews. People often head online to complain. If you find many negative reviews, however, you might want to look at another estate planning attorney.
7. Meet Them Yourself
Once you only have a few attorneys left on your list, take the time to meet each one in person. Remember, many lawyers offer a free case consultation. You can schedule a time to meet them yourself for a tour of their law office.
How does their office look? Does everything appear organized and in order? Is the staff friendly?
If you don’t feel comfortable at the lawyer’s office, reconsider hiring them.
During your meeting, ask who will work on your will. The first estate planning lawyer you meet might not become your attorney. Determine who will work on your will and make sure they’re qualified before signing a contract.
Ask any questions that remain on your mind, such as:
- How long have you focused on estate planning?
- Do you draw up the documents and execute the associated trusts?
- Will you conduct periodic reviews of my affairs?
- Do you have experience with estate taxes?
- Can you help me create a plan that includes my will, trust, and life insurance?
Asking these questions will help you find an estate planning lawyer who meets your needs.
8. Consider Their Skillset
You can further narrow down your options by reviewing each attorney’s skillset. During your consultation, take note of how the attorney speaks. Look for someone with strong communication skills.
Do they write as clearly and concisely as they speak? Remember, your estate planning attorney will become responsible for important documents.
Are they a good listener? If they fail to listen properly, they might not complete your will as needed.
Look for an attorney who is empathetic to your situation, too. A lawyer who takes the time to understand your needs will keep your best interests in mind. Otherwise, they might only care about a paycheck.
If they don’t care about your needs, they might make costly mistakes to your will. Your family members might have to pay the price for it.
Start Your Search using these 8 Tips for Finding an Estate Planning Attorney
Don’t rush to hire the first estate planning attorney you meet. Instead, use these tips to make sure you find the best estate planning attorney in the area. With these tips, you can find an attorney who has your best interests in mind.
Ready to discuss your estate? Contact us today to schedule an appointment.
Sean Paul O’Bryan is a Davison, Michigan estate planning attorney who has been helping families for 30 years work through the complicated issues of trusts, wills, estate taxes, elder law, and probate avoidance. He is noted author and speaker on a variety of estate topics. Sean is married and has 2 children, and lives on an active farm in Lapeer, Michigan with several horses, sheep, goats, chicken, dogs & cats.