7 Qualities of an Excellent Estate Planning Attorney
The term estate planning can be defined as the process of making a plan in advance to manage a person's estate in an anticipation of death or illness. A common misconception is that only wealthy people should prepare documents for medical directives, wills, trusts, and guardianship, but this myth couldn't be further from the truth. The fact is that estate planning is essential for everyone. Regardless of the person, in order to create a great estate plan you need an experienced family trust attorney who completely understands your situation and unique desires. Even though proper estate planning is a serious pursuit, the right family estate attorney will ensure a smooth execution of the documents by making you feel comfortable disclosing pertinent information, answering any questions about complex terminology, and maintaining contact every step of the way. At Intrepid Law, experienced attorney Adam Tucker truly embodies the qualities of a great estate planning attorney that you can completely trust.
Qualities of a Great Estate Planning Attorney
1. Specializes in Estate Planning
Some lawyers who have little or no experience in trust and estate planning will simply input your information into a software program without completely knowing the ways in which laws of your state can impact your estate. These types of lawyers may be skilled at handling divorces, personal injury cases, traffic tickets, or bill collection, but estate planning is not their main area of practice.
A great family estate attorney is one who only focuses on estate planning. Because these specialized lawyers should also have many years of experience and continuing education dedicated to this field, they are more likely to be fully knowledgeable about the laws in your state. If they are not well-versed and up to date on estate laws, your estate plan may not be approved by the courts after you die.
For extra assurance and peace of mind, make sure that he is certified as a specialist in probate, trust, and estate planning law in the state in which you live. The most qualified family trust attorney must have extensive knowledge of this area of law in his state.
2. Offers a Fixed Price to Create an Estate Plan
Before embarking on the estate planning process, you want to make sure that the lawyer you are hiring is charging you a fixed price for all of the work that he is performing. A flat upfront fee will ensure that there will not be any surprise fees since you will know the exact cost of the services beforehand. As long as you know what the flat fee does and doesn't cover, you shouldn't encounter hidden costs.
Although it's rare these days, a trust planning attorney may charge an hourly rate for providing estate planning services. In most cases, a family estate attorney offering hourly rates are probably not acting in your best interest as he will may be more likely to require many office consultations and multiple drafts of documents to ultimately increase his pay.
Whether he charges a flat fee or an hourly rate, make sure that you do not sign a fee agreement until you completely understand its terms.
3. Performs a Wide Range of Tasks
The practice of estate planning includes an extremely wide range of topics from probates to trust administration. A highly skilled trust attorney will be able to establish trusts for loved ones, minimize estate taxes, avoid probate, create wills, plan for disability, and much more.
If your dad has recently died and you want to hire a family estate attorney to settle his estate, consider selecting a qualified lawyer with expertise in probates. If you have a complex financial and family situation, you probably need to hire a family trust attorney who is skilled at drafting trusts. Or, if you have extensive real estate holdings, the ideal trust planning attorney will have a wealth of knowledge about real property law.
Sometimes it's necessary to work with attorney who has experience in multiple areas. For instance, if you need to rewrite your estate plan and your wife suddenly becomes ill, you need a family trust attorney who is knowledgeable about special needs trusts and estate tax laws.
4. Prepares Estate Plans Quickly and Efficiently
A good question to ask an estate planning attorney is the amount of time it will take him to prepare the plan. If you are prepared and organized, most experienced attorneys can prepare a first draft of the plan within a couple of weeks. It will usually take him another two weeks to have corrections made.
Depending on your specific situation, you may not have that luxury of time. For instance, if you or a closed loved one is seriously ill, you need a lawyer who can prepare the necessary documents as soon as possible. An estate planning attorney that you can trust will be able to excite an estate plan in a timely manner.
5. Maintains a Friendly and Understanding Demeanor
An excellent trust estate attorney's primary goal is to learn as much information as he can about your family and planning goals so that he can create an estate plan that incorporates your objectives. In fact, most attorneys will begin the estate planning process by asking you some intimate questions about your current assets, family tree, and physical/mental health; as a result, he should make you feel extremely comfortable disclosing this information to him.
An empathetic attorney will understand that disclosing your life insurance policy, savings/checking accounts, and real estate may be invasive, so he will take this opportunity to explain why an estate plan should account for every single asset. Instead of speaking in legalese, he will speak in easy to understand language so that you will feel extremely comfortable with the process. For example, he should ask simple questions like "Who do you want to handle your business, sell your home, or make sure your beneficiaries receive your money when you die?" as opposed to potentially confusing questions like "Who would you like to be the principal beneficiaries of your revocable trust?" The former question is not only one that you can actually understand but it also suggests that your attorney understands and wants to help you in any way possible. The latter question creates a barrier between you and your attorney simply because you probably can't understand him.
If your trust planning attorney is aloof, unpleasant, or hard to understand, you may unintentionally hold back certain information in the planning process. Such undisclosed information could be vital in creating a proper estate plan.
6. Guides You Through the Entire Process
Once you have disclosed your pertinent information, your estate planning attorney will assist you with completing the beneficiary designation forms for retirement plans and pensions, real estate, bank accounts, and property titles.
The attorney should also ensure that you complete formation documents for a revocable living trust. Make sure to inform your trust planning attorney that you want a living trust that avoids probate when you die.
In addition, a skilled attorney will set up your plan in such a way to minimize estate taxes as much as possible. Other issues that he may want to discuss with you are guardianship of dependents, charitable giving, life insurance, healthcare decisions, and powers of attorney. During this process of creating an individualized plan together, he should make sure that you thoroughly understand its specific details.
Following the completion of the many documents, your attorney should let you know who should receive copies and where to store the originals. Many attorneys retain a copy in their file. Ensuring that your loved ones can access your important documents when needed is just as important as creating the estate plan in the first place.
7. Keeps in Contact with You
Many average family estate attorneys view estate planning as a one-time process. Most are unwilling to keep in touch unless you pay them another fee. Even if your attorney drafts the perfect plan for you, he should still check in with you about every five years to determine if your goals and situation have changed. A formal periodic review process should also be conducted when the laws in your state have been altered.
Choose Intrepid Law for Your Estate Planning Needs
Even if the attorney has all of the right qualifications, you still have to determine if you can see yourself working closely with him. Known as one of the best full-service law firms in Saint Louis, Missouri, Intrepid Law is a trusted place where you can receive sophisticated, long-term estate planning for your family from a highly-qualified lawyer. Our firm proudly provides assistance with family legacy planning, trust and estate administration, estate tax matters, trust formation, and more. Contrary to many large firms in the area, we only accept clients who are interested in business and estate planning. Contact us today to learn more about our exclusive services at 314-797-5202.