For most people, choosing a lawyer for any legal matter can be a difficult, and sometimes, intimidating, task. When you are choosing a lawyer to help you create an estate plan, the pressure to select the right lawyer is even greater, given the importance of estate planning. A properly drafted estate plan should, at a bare minimum, help protect and grow your assets while you are alive and provide for your loved ones after you are gone. Selecting the right estate planning lawyer to help you create your estate plan, therefore, is not an endeavor that should be taken lightly nor accomplished without careful consideration. To help ensure that you make the right choice, consider the following four practical tips for choosing the right estate planning lawyer.
Know what you want in a lawyer.
This may sound like an obvious tip; however, the reality is that most people don’t really know what they are looking for in an attorney, particularly when it comes to an estate planning attorney. One reason for this is because the average person knows very little about estate planning beyond the basic concept of a Last Will and Testament. Take some time to familiarize yourself with what a comprehensive estate plan can do for you and your family and then ask yourself what you want/need your estate plan to accomplish. For example, if you own a family farm you need an attorney who is familiar with how to incorporate the farm into your estate plan. Likewise, if you have a special needs child you need an estate planning attorney who knows how to include special needs planning in your overall plan.
Just as you would if you were looking for a doctor or an accountant, seek referrals for your estate planning attorney. Ask friends, family, and even co-workers if they have worked with an estate planning attorney with whom they were happy. You might even know an attorney who does not practice estate planning but who can refer you to a friend or colleague who does devote his/her practice to estate planning. A direct referral from someone you know is always a good place to start your hunt for the right estate planning lawyer. You can also us the Florida Bar Association’s “Lawyer Referral” service for referrals if asking people you know doesn’t produce the desired result.
Do your research.
Your estate plan will likely be the most important set of legal documents you create and execute during your lifetime. As such, it only makes sense to spend the time necessary to do your own research before deciding on an attorney to help you with your plan. Although it is not wise to hire an attorney based solely on his/her website, you can glean a tremendous amount of helpful information from an attorney’s website in today’s electronic age. Once you have a few names from referrals, take the time to peruse their websites for information such as the areas of law they practice, how long they have been practicing law, and even where their offices are located and when they are open.
This may sound like an odd tip – most people don’t think in terms of “interviewing” a prospective lawyer – but you should think in those terms. If you needed surgery, would you just call the first surgeon you find after a Google search? Doubtful. Would you hire a nanny for your children based solely on a referral from a co-worker? Definitely not. Why then wouldn’t you interview an attorney who will essentially be responsible for creating the documents that will protect you, your assets, and your loved ones for many years to come? Instead of thinking in terms of “interviews,” it might be easier to call them “consultations.” Most attorneys offer a free initial consultation. With that in mind, narrow down your options to the top three or four and schedule consultations. Before each one, take the time to write down some critical questions you have for the lawyer. It can also be helpful to make some simple lists, including one for your assets, one for your current and likely future debts, and one for your estate planning goals and objectives. By the time you finish your “interviews” you will likely know which estate planning lawyer is right for you and your needs.
If you have additional questions about estate planning in the State of Florida please contact the experienced estate planning attorneys at Kulas & Crawford. by calling 772-398-0720 to schedule an appointment.