Picking an Estate Attorney
How to pick the estate planning attorney that’s right for you.
An initial meeting with an estate planning attorney can be a nerve-racking encounter. In my experience, many prospective clients put off making important decisions about their end-of-life plan, sometimes because they are nervous about the amount of savings they have (or don’t have), and sometimes because they don’t want to make uncomfortable decisions. But your meeting really shouldn’t be stressful. A good estate planning attorney isn’t here to judge your financial situation or berate you for not saving enough. What your attorney should do, however, is listen to your concerns and guide your planning solutions to deal with any unique challenges you have. Most clients, if they’ve picked the attorney that’s right for them, leave their meetings feeling more confident and prepared for the future.
Find a good communicator.
First and foremost, you want an attorney that helps you feel comfortable and confident. You and your lawyer will need to go over many challenging topics, including who will raise your children if you pass away while they are still minors, how you will take care of yourself if you become incapacitated, and who among your loved ones can realistically act as the executor of your estate. A good estate planning attorney will ask the right questions to get a sense of your needs and complexities. Essentially, you need your estate planning attorney to be a careful and competent listener, who can hear what you say and recognize what you may have forgotten to mention.
For example, I find it productive to have clients discuss with me their experiences with their own parents or siblings. Such conversations lead to the selection of the best available support network including appropriate health care and financial agents. It’s crucial for me to get a complete sense of the person and his or her extended community. Good communication allows me to discuss the hard questions my clients have.
Work with someone who has experience with your specific needs.
Secondly, you want to pick the estate planning attorney whose expertise matches your needs. The attorney should also have experience in estate and trust administration. This additional experience means the attorney knows how to keep in mind how your plan should be implemented someday and can avoid complications. Additionally, you’ll want to know if the attorney has experience in both wills and revocable living trusts, as well as a good understanding of how the need for assisted living or a move to a nursing home can affect your plan. More broadly, you’ll want an estate planning attorney who can look at all the elements of your life and choose the plan that is right for you. So, for example, if you have minor children, you’ll need to think about the structure of the trusts you set up for them and who to nominate as their Guardians in your Wills. Or, you may want to make specific cash payments to individuals or charities, and you’ll want an attorney who is experienced in charitable disbursements and inheritance taxes.
Ask them about how they follow up.
A good estate planning attorney will tell you when you should get back in contact to reexamine your estate plan. As your life grows and changes, you want to make sure that your plan is still working for you. I tell my clients I can be reached anytime to discuss if any updates are needed, but it is vital to revisit the plan whenever they have important life changes (i.e., they buy a new house, receive an inheritance, or have a new member added to their family). It’s key to know when to revise your plan, and to feel comfortable calling your attorney with any questions.
With the right estate planning attorney, you will feel more confident about your future, regardless of the size of your estate.
If you think any of these concerns apply to you, give yourself peace of mind and make an appointment with an estate planning attorney at Lewicky, O’Connor, Hunt & Meiser, LLC today.
Verena Meiser has 16 years of experience as a trust and estates attorney. She has been practicing law in Columbia, Maryland for the past 12 years. She specializes in estate planning and asset protection, special needs planning, elder law, VA planning, estate administration, trust administration, and trustee support.