So you have decided to create an estate plan, but you are unsure how to choose an appropriate estate planning attorney. To be sure, there is no shortage of options in Southern California and many potential clients will choose an attorney based on one factor: price. However, as with any industry, some attorneys are better than others and sometimes when the least expensive attorney wins, you lose. Although it can be difficult to ascertain which attorney will be the best for you, a few simple initial questions can help to determine whether you are getting the best value for your fee.
What is your fee?
Many attorneys charge flat fees for estate planning documents. Estate plans are necessarily somewhat standard so that individuals, financial institutions, and other attorneys have an idea of what to expect when someone says they have an estate plan in place or have been named Trustee. However, there are also very important custom clauses and sections that ought to be reviewed and altered for every client who asks for an estate plan. If an attorney will complete your estate plan for significantly less than other attorneys, it may provide insight into how much effort the attorney is willing to spend on the plan. Low rates might indicate that someone other than the attorney will prepare the documents or that very little time will be spent customizing the documents to your needs. If these issues are important to you, then you should move on.
How do you stay up to date on current law?
Most people are aware that attorneys are required to complete some continuing education in order to maintain their license. However, in most cases, continuing education credits are not required to be in any specific subject area. Members of the State Bar who are Certified Specialists are required to take additional continuing education courses, and are required to take courses in the subject matter in which they specialize. At a minimum, you should ask your attorney how he or she stays current on issues in the estate planning, trust administration, tax, Medi-Cal and other applicable laws. Particularly when you require Medi-Cal or VA benefit planning, your attorney should be accredited by the VA and a certified specialist in Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Law.
What is Included?
Estate plan pricing can be misleading. Occasionally, you will be quoted a price along with an exclamation that this document and that document are included, as if that were a bonus. In most cases, experienced attorneys will include similar documents in the “package.” (The documents may well be written differently and some may be better written than others, but typically a Trust Package tends to include the same types of documents.). The important question is has the attorney interviewed you from an “issues” perspective. In other words, did he ask you whether you were concerned about this and about that? Did he spend the time to find out about you, your family, and your assets? Or did he simply play the “name game”, i.e. did he throw out names of documents and clauses to make it seem like he was covering all the bases?
It is important to choose an attorney with whom you feel comfortable and who asks you enough questions that you can be confident the attorney is evaluating your entire financial and family pictures when creating your plan. Additionally, asking these few, simple questions can ensure that you are making a truly informed choice when faced with multiple options.
Estate Planning: The Price of Organization, Rewards, Gifts, and Wondrous Tax Things… FREE REPORT: This complimentary report, focused on Estate Planning, is comprised of many of Mr. Miller’s articles from his long running column for the largest regional newspaper in San Diego County. This report will guide you through the questions surrounding getting your estate planning in order.