Choosing an Estate Planning Attorney

By Jackie Jacobs

If your family physician determines you have a potential heart problem, of course you would seek out a specialist.  Seeking a higher level of expertise with your estate plan likewise makes sense

How do you know if it is time to revise and update your estate plan? Start with a check list.  See if your current Will stacks up.

Your Will may need to be updated if:

You have moved to another state since your last Will was signed.  Different state laws control the steps for making a valid Will. An estate planning attorney in your new state can help you review and update your Will.

You have a new grandchild:  You may want to provide for your new grandchild’s financial needs after your lifetime.

You have lost a family member: The death of a family member can profoundly affect a desired plan, especially if your Will doesn’t list contingent beneficiaries.

You want to establish or change your philanthropic legacy: To continue supporting your favorite charities, you may want to bequeath a sum of money, a percentage of your estate, or a share of the residue of your estate.

Your children are grown:  You may no longer need a guardianship provision or perhaps a trust fund.

Your child is contemplating divorce:  Make provisions to ensure that your child receives his or her intended inheritance in the case of divorce.

You are divorced, remarried, or widowed: The exit or entrance of relationships in your life should trigger an update of your Will right away to protect the future of your heirs.

Your estate has increased:  If your estate has increased substantially throughout the years, make sure your Will fits your current financial situation.

Tax law changes:  You must be on guard constantly to be certain that your Will takes advantage of available credits and deductions.

Your executor’s situation has changed: Have an alternative plan in case the executor, guardian or trustee you’ve named has moved or passed away.

The next step is to find an estate attorney.  Finding good legal help can be a challenge.  While there are various lists and directories out there, merely accessing contact information doesn’t help much.  To find an estate attorney, ask friends, colleagues, and their financial planners for referrals.  Don’t hesitate to interview several before making a decision.  Prepare your questions in advance.  Below is a list of questions that might help you find the right fit:

What percentage of your practice is devoted to Probate, Trusts, & Estate  Planning Law?

How long have you personally been doing estate planning?

What is your estate planning process?

What will you need from us?

Mission Financial Planning, a Kansas-based firm, suggests that you refer to an area of concern and ask how they’d handle it.  For example, “We have two minor children, what are some strategies you might incorporate?”  or  “My brother has special needs, what do we need to take into consideration?”  or “I own my own business, how would you incorporate that into the plan?”

Other questions for the prospective attorney might be:

Will you write general, financial, and/or medical powers of attorney for us?

Do you provide health care directives?

How often do you recommend that we get together to review these documents after they’re written?

How will I know if a change is necessary due to a change in estate or tax law?

How do you charge for estate planning? (example: flat fee for the documents, hourly charges for re-titling assets)

What do your fees include?

What services are not included in the fee?

Does your fee include a regular review of my legal documents?

How do you go about communicating with my other advisors (financial planner/CPA)?

Taking an intentional approach to finding a good attorney will help assure the quality of your estate documents now, and perhaps an easier execution when the time comes to use them.

Article appears as originally published in the Ohio Jewish Chronicle, June 25, 2015.

Jackie Jacobs is the Chief Executive Officer of the Columbus Jewish Foundation, the Central Ohio Jewish community’s planned giving and endowment headquarters.

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