Before you decide to hire ANY attorney to help get your estate planning affairs in order, make sure to ask them the following questions:
1. After you complete my estate plan, what happens next? Will I ever hear from you again?
You want to make sure you understand how your attorney views estate planning. Sadly, some attorneys simply view their role as a facilitator of a one-time transaction. You give them money, and they give you some pieces of paper with words on them. The end.
Run away from that lawyer as fast as you can! Estate planning, trust, probate, tax, and inheritance laws change constantly. New strategies come along that were not available many years ago. Life changes as well. People are born, get married, get divorced, grow older, become ill, and pass away. What may be appropriate for your family 20 years ago may not make sense now. Make sure you work with an attorney who views this as a life-long relationship. Also, ask your attorney about his or her review program to make sure there is a structure in place for regular “check-ups”.
2. What percentage of your practice is estate planning and estate settlement?
So many attorneys are “general practice” or “full service”. They list 5-10 different practice areas that are their specialties on their websites in the hopes of acquiring more clients. This helps the lawyer make more money, but it doesn’t help you!
Think about how ridiculous this concept is: Would you be comfortable with getting open heart surgery from a doctor who told you that he was also a chiropractor, dermatologist, AND a physical therapist? Of course not! You would jump off the operating table and look for someone who only focused on heart surgeries. You should demand the same from your attorney. Make sure the attorney who is in charge of creating the plan that will protect your family knows what he or she is doing and is not just using estate planning as a side-business to generate extra fees from clients.
3. After I die, how much money will you make from settling my estate?
Depending on what type of estate plan the attorney prepares for you, your loved ones may need the attorney’s help settling the estate after you pass away. Before agreeing to the plan that the attorney recommends, find out how the plan is executed after you pass away. More importantly, find out if t
he attorney is setting himself or herself up for a huge payday after your death.
An attorney can do this in multiple ways. The first (and in our mind, most morally reprehensible), is to “volunteer” to keep your original documents in the law firm’s safe. They will say this is done to keep everything secure and prevent you from losing your documents in the future. However, once you pass away, your family will be forced to schedule an appointment to come pick up the documents. Why is this done? You guessed it: the attorney has a guaranteed meeting to attempt to convince your heirs to hire him or her to settle your estate!
Second, some attorneys recommend a client use a simple Will-based estate plan even when there are complexities that should be addressed or if the value of the estate is high enough that a Trust might make more sense. Why do they do this? Because they are already counting the fee they will make when they are hired to probate your estate after you pass away!
Call us at 513-463-6789 if you have additional questions about how best to protect your family through solid estate planning. We would love to hear from you, and your question may also help us improve future versions of this guide!