What to Look For in an Estate Planning Attorney

graphic of person interviewing an estate planning attorney with clipboard

If you want to create your estate plan with an attorney because you have specialized needs, you will want to engage a specialist.

Many local attorneys who offer estate planning services are generalists operating in a number of different fields such as family law, bankruptcy protection, civil litigation and disputes, and other areas.

The first local attorney who pops up on Google search may seem like the most convenient offline option, but that attorney might not be best equipped to address your unique needs.

Why You Should Always Look for a Specialist

When you learn the secrets to how attorney-prepared estate plans are priced, you learn that your estate plan probably came from attorney-side drafting software or another template.

There is nothing inherently wrong with an attorney being a generalist or using a template. As your needs become increasingly specialized and you integrate advanced tax planning, however, the checkboxes that feed those templates start to become fairly complicated, even for an attorney. Unless the attorney really knows what he or she is doing, the attorney could unknowingly or accidentally check the wrong box and create a plan that isn’t what you want.

Specialists who draft and administer estate plans day-in and day-out are far less likely to make one of these drafting mistakes. Many hold a ‘Master of Laws’ (LLM) in Taxation, a special tax planning credential for lawyers that requires an additional 18 to 36 months of legal education and field practice beyond a J.D. Others focus heavily on special needs planning and preserving government entitlements for clients with disabilities or extensive medical care needs. This extra knowledge and focus is critical as you seek to create and manage a complex estate plan.

Other Criteria to Consider When Looking for an Estate Planning Attorney

Beyond ensuring that you’re working with a specialist, you'll also want an attorney who fits the following criteria:

  • Licensed in your state: Licenses to practice law are state-specific, and most attorneys only are licensed in one or a handful of states.
  • Cost structure that meets your budget: ask whether the attorney charges a fixed fee or hourly rate. If you are paying by the hour, try to get a sense from the attorney on total estimated hours to meet your needs or a price range that the attorney's services typically fall into.
  • Age and Continuity of Law Practice: If you plan to have your attorney retain custody of the original copy of your will, you'll want to have some assurance that the attorney's law practice will be around when you pass away.
  • Availability: the best estate planning attorney specialists are in high demand. Many are unable to schedule new client visits until multiple months out. Make sure that the attorney's availability fits with your timeline for creating your plan.

Armed with the knowledge for what to look for in an estate planning attorney, you’re ready to find an estate planning attorney and prepare for your first meeting.

Although Just In Case Estates is not a law firm and does not provide legal advice, our customer success team is happy to help you find an estate planning attorney if you’d like additional support.