The most ideal way to hire a good estate planning attorney is through a referral. Ask your friends, colleagues, accountant or financial advisor for a referral to someone they have worked with in the past. By talking with friends and colleagues, you can gain a lot of information about the lawyers in your community. If you cannot get a referral, call your county bar association. Most bar associations keep a list of attorneys who are accepting new clients in particular practice areas.
You can also find estate planning lawyers online. Put together a list of attorneys in your area whose primary practice area is estate planning or trusts and estates. Review each attorney’s biography and any information posted about the attorney’s practice. Look at such things as their professional memberships, published articles, and other activities. If the attorney’s practice seems primarily dedicated to other practice areas, keep looking. You don't want to hire a personal injury lawyer or criminal defense attorney to draft your will. Try to find an attorney with several years of experience in estate planning and whose practice seems focused on clients like you. If you need to hire a probate attorney, see our page on Probate Lawyers for more information.
Call or meet with at least three attorneys before making a decision. Try to spend at least 30 minutes talking with each attorney about what you want to accomplish with your estate plan. If you are interested in a specific type of trust, an estate tax strategy, or protecting your spouse or child, ask the attorney to describe his or her experience with that type of representation. Good attorneys will understand you need to spend a few minutes getting to know their business style before you can make a decision. Many attorneys offer a free 30-minute consultation. Ask how many estate plans he or she has prepared for other clients. During the consultation, find out how the attorney interacts with you. For example, is the attorney willing to answer your questions about professional experience, areas of practice, and attorneys’ fees? Or does the attorney seem impatient? Choose an attorney who is willing to answer your questions in a manner you understand.
Ask for a written fee quote from each attorney. Try to obtain a flat fee quote with a fixed, all-inclusive price for all the estate planning documents you want prepared. This may eliminate any surprises on your bill and keep you within a budget for completing your estate plan. If the attorney you choose does not offer flat fee arrangements, ask for written estimate of how many billable hours will be involved in making your estate plan, as well as any costs you can expect to pay. If the attorney will not provide a fee quote or is noncommittal regarding how much your estate plan will cost, look for another attorney. It is very reasonable for a client to receive a written fee estimate in advance. If the attorney has sufficient experience in wills, trusts, and probate, he or she will be able to estimate the amount of time involved and should be able to explain any exceptions or variables that may affect the total cost.
Be realistic about how much an estate plan will cost. A thorough estate plan is going to cost money, especially if you want to use a complex tax strategy, own a significant amount of property or have a complicated personal situation. There is a great deal of work involved in drafting an effective estate plan and the fee quotes you receive are likely to reflect that. If you receive a fee quote you think is high, obtain quotes from a few other attorneys in your community. By getting more than one quote, you can find out the market rates in your area. Also, be aware that rates charged by different law firms can vary dramatically. Some law firms are geared toward representing companies, executives, and wealthier clients. Other law firms are focused on representing individuals and small business owners. If you have a relatively small estate, look for an attorney whose firm specializes in representing individuals rather than large companies.
Finding the right estate planning attorney is a process. It takes time to get the best results. You need to communicate with the attorney in person or by phone to thoroughly explain the extent of your property, your heirs, and how you want to distribute your estate. If you expect to find an attorney in five minutes by sending a few e-mails, you will probably be disappointed with the results. When hiring any advisor, it can take time to find someone whose style matches yours. You may be sharing some of your most private concerns, family history, and financial information with your lawyer. You have the right to feel comfortable talking with the person you hire. In order to do that, there must be some level of trust. If you are uncomfortable with an attorney, take the time to contact another attorney or get another referral. Your estate plan is part of the legacy you leave behind. Be persistent in finding an attorney that will help you accomplish your goals.