Dear Mr. Miller:
My husband and I are worried about Covid-19. We’ve reached the point where we need to have a Living Trust. We just want one to draw up the document and then we’re done–right? How do I know who to choose?
Living Trust vs Estate Planning: Lot’s of people like you have put off getting a Living Trust but with Covid-19, a lot are suddenly ready to go forward. This is properly referred to as Estate Planning since maybe you need a Living Trust and maybe you need something else. And even if you need a Living Trust, which type of Trust. But you are going into the relationship wrong!
Drafting vs Guidance: You don’t want (or at least you shouldn’t want) someone to just draft the document. You should want someone who is going to guide you on which of the various different types of Trusts is right for you based on what you are trying to accomplish. And then gives you guidance on how to configure that trust. For example, what happens if one of your children predeceases–who gets that child’s share–the surviving spouse, kids of the deceased child, siblings of the deceased child? Or should the child, adult or minor, receive the inheritance outright or in a long term trust of his/her own? And a slew of other issues. There are advantages and disadvantages on all of this and you should be wanting the input of that attorney.
Drafting vs Continuing Relationship: And then you should want a continuing relationship with that attorney, not just someone to draft the document. Why? Because a Living Trust (or a Will or any other estate planning document) is not “forever.” Here’s a link to my frequently asked questions page dealing with this question in the context of an attorney who is not located in your city.
and here as to how often these things should be reveiwed.
Selecting the Proper Attorney: And here’s my recommendation on how to select an attorney for this job. First you want someone competent. So you want an attorney, not a paralegal or a document preparation service.
Now competence comes in different levels. The young attorney may be fine for someone who has a limited net worth (say less than $300,000 to $500,000), is healthy, and has a fairly straight forward family situation But if you have more than that net worth, have a blended family, or your health or mental capability is declining, etc. then you want someone with more competence. In California, attorneys can be certified in numerous specialities, similar to Medical Internists or Cardiologists. One of those specialties is Estate Planning, Trust, and Probate Law. There are numerous requirements to earn that certification over and above merely meeting the requirements to get the license. I have been certified since the early 90’s. And I am still learning something new, constantly. So how much does a young attorney need to learn? That’s the first step.
Then you can check their rating on Martindale Hubbell and Avvo. They are both now owned by the same company but the former has been around since the late 1880’s and uses a peer review approach while the latter has been with us for the last 10 years or so and uses a rating based on algorithms. To give you an idea, I am rated by the former as Preemininet (AV) and the latter as Superb, (9.9 out of 10). You can read on the rating service’s sites how they go about their rating approach and their explanation of what it means. Then go to the attorney’s web site and see what they have to say. Keep in mind that much of what is on many legal websites is ghost written, but at least it will give you a sense for that attorney’s focus. (On my web site the vast majority of the elder law articles were written by me.) Of course, you can look at Yelp and Google and other review services but I don’t put much stock in them for finding competent professionals as the reviewer really has limited knowledge of the professional field in question. That reviewer can actually only rate on the basis of things like whether the professional was prompt, had a clean office, and spoke to them nicely (all important but nothing to do with competence).