How to find an estate planning attorney
When it comes to protecting and passing on your assets after you die, an estate planning attorney can (and should) be your biggest ally. An estate planning attorney (or estate attorney) is a bar-certified lawyer who helps administer his or her client’s property and money, in addition to handling all the paperwork necessary to secure its future. Typically, estate attorneys can assist you with:
- Drafting a will and/or trust. Many clients will also opt to leave these documents in their attorney’s safe-keeping (rather than a lock box or safe) so an executor can easily access them.
- Designating power of attorney and other proxies (both financial and medical) to oversee your legal matters and make decisions on your behalf in the event that you are incapacitated.
- Arranging charitable donations, life insurance policies, and retirement plans.
- Determining ways to reduce the taxes and fees that will be imposed on your estate after you die.
Given their wide-ranging responsibilities, a good estate attorney will be a master at blending principles of family law and tax law to best serve your needs. And while it may be tempting to save a few bucks by writing your own will or using a one-size-fits-all template from the internet, opting for a professional can save you and your loved ones money in the long run.
There are a number of ways to find a qualified estate attorney in your area:
1. Ask your social circle
You may not realize that a close friend or family member has been the executor of someone’s estate or has worked with an estate attorney to put their own affairs in order. Ask people you trust—whether at work, your place of worship, or the next family gathering—if they have personal experience working with an estate planning attorney and how satisfied they are with the help they received.
Don’t rush to dial the first name that’s suggested, though, as your friends or coworkers may not have expertise in selecting an attorney. Before setting an appointment, spend a few minutes researching the referral. You can check out client and peer rankings on an online database such as Avvo or Martindale-Hubbell.
2. Talk to another lawyer you know
If you’ve used a personal or business lawyer at some point, they should be able to direct you to a qualified colleague not in their immediate area of expertise. You may want to ask them who they used for their estate planning (since most lawyers know better than to take themselves on as a client).
3. Check in with your accountant or financial planner
These professionals can be a great resource for two reasons: Estate planning fits into the ecosystem of your larger financial planning, so it’s already in their wheelhouse to understand the basics of what you need and why this is so important. And you almost definitely won’t be the first client who’s asked them to make a recommendation from their professional network. You can also ask your finance pro who did his or her own personal estate plan.
4. Consult the state bar association
Each state bar association keeps a list of the practicing attorneys within its borders—and some will go so far as to recommend an attorney to meet your needs. You may also want to consult the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils, which maintains a database of accredited estate planners.
By Brigid Sweeney
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