5 Questions To Ask Before Hiring An Estate Planning Lawyer—Part 1
Because you’ll be discussing topics like death, incapacity, and other frightening life events, hiring a lawyer specialized in planning estates may feel intimidating or morbid. But it does not have to be that way.
In fact, it can be the most empowering decision you ever make for yourself and your loved ones. The key to transforming the experience is to educate yourself first. The lawyer you choose is the person who will be there for your family when you can’t be, so you want to understand who the lawyer is as a person in addition to how good they are as an attorney. You’ll also want to find out the kind of services your potential lawyer offers and how they run their business.
To help you in your search, here are five questions to ask your potential attorneys to give you the best chances at finding a lawyer who won’t make you pay for services you don’t need, want, or expect. Once you know exactly what you should be looking for when choosing a planning professional, you’ll be much better positioned to hire an attorney who will provide the kind of love, attention, care, and trust your family deserves.
- How do you bill for your services?
There’s no reason you should be afraid to ask a lawyer how he or she bills for the work they do on your behalf. In fact, questions about billing and payment should be among the very first subjects you bring up when you first contact them. No one wants surprises, especially when it comes to the bill.
If you call a lawyer’s office and they are reluctant or refuse to give you clear answers to questions about how they charge for their services, determine your fees, or what they expect certain services will cost, immediately register this as a big red flag. When someone is hesitant to discuss their billing or business practices, you could be in for some major surprises about what things cost down the road.
Find a lawyer who bills for all of their services on a flat-fee, no surprises, basis. Also, it’s best to avoid lawyers to bill on an hourly basis—unless it’s required by the court for limited purposes. Ideally, you want a lawyer who will guide you through a process of learning for both of you. Your lawyer needs to learn about your family dynamics and your assets, and they need to educate you about what would happen for your family and to your assets if and when something happens to you. Then they should support you in choosing the right plan for you that meets your budget and your desired outcomes.
Our process for your planning begins with a Family Wealth Planning Session™, in which we educate you about the law and you educate us about your family dynamics and assets, and then you choose the right plan, at the right cost, for the people you love.
- How will you respond to my needs on an ongoing basis?
One of the biggest complaints people have about working with lawyers is that they are notoriously unresponsive. Indeed, I’ve heard of cases in which clients went weeks without getting a call back from their lawyer. This is all too common, but totally unacceptable, especially when you’re paying them big bucks.
With that being said, in most cases, these lawyers are not ignoring you maliciously—they just simply don’t have enough support or the systems in place to be able to respond to you the way they want to. Far too many lawyers believe that they can manage everything themselves, from paperwork and client meetings to scheduling and returning phone calls to connecting their clients with other advisors. However, there are just too many responsibilities for one person to keep track of all on their own.
The fact of the matter is that a completely solo practitioner or a lawyer who works for a firm that doesn’t provide adequate support is almost certain to become overwhelmed and unresponsive sooner or later. Given this, it’s vital that you ask your lawyer about how they will respond to your needs if you decide to become their client.
You can ask them the average time it takes for calls to be returned in their office You can also ask them if there will be someone on-hand to answer quick questions and ask them how they will keep your plan up to date on an ongoing basis. Furthermore, knowing how they will be there for your loved one’s when you can’t be is a valid concern to inquire about.
A great way to test this is to call your prospective lawyer’s office and ask for them. If you get put through right away or your call gets sent to a full voicemail, take this into account before hiring this lawyer. These signs mean that they do not have effective systems in place for managing and responding to calls or answering quick questions.
Instead, what you want is for the person who answers the phone or another team member in the office to offer to help you. If that individual cannot help you, then they should schedule a call for you to talk with your lawyer at a future date and time.
Your lawyer simply can’t be effective or efficient if they are taking every call that comes through. Ideally, all calls to your lawyer should be pre-scheduled with a clear agenda, so you both can be ready to focus on your specific needs.
Next week in part two, we’ll talk more about the ways in which your attorney should communicate with you and list the remaining three questions to ask before hiring a lawyer to plan your estate.
This article is a service of Levi Alexander, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.
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