How to choose an estate planning attorney

There are many things to consider when choosing an estate planning attorney. Setting up your estate plan can be a very personal and emotional process. That's why it's important work with an attorney who specializes in estate planning. You'll want to choose a person who you're comfortable talking to and revealing personal information. We recommend that you interview at least three attorneys before you choose.

We suggest you spend some time researching the attorneys and the firms they belong to before your interviews, so you'll be at least familiar with the firm and the attorney's background. This will help you keep your interview more focused and keep the costs down—remember, once you retain the attorney, you'll be on the clock. Here is a list of questions and things to consider when choosing an estate planning attorney:

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Questions to Ask an Estate Planning Attorney During Your Interview Notes

1. Experience

How long have you been practicing?

Ideally, you'll want someone who has been practicing for at least eight or ten years.


2. Expertise

Do you focus on estate planning or do you do other types of work as well?

If he or she works mostly in estate planning, then you'll benefit from working with an attorney who's familiar with and knowledgeable of tax law changes.


3. Location

Where are you located geographically?

We think it's important to have face-to-face meetings within a reasonable distance of your work or home.


4. Pricing

How much do you charge for your services?

By looking through your net worth statement, the attorney should be able to confirm a price estimate. A well-drafted comprehensive estate plan should cost between $1,500 and $3,000 to prepare. Get a written estimate before the attorney begins your work and hold him or her to it.


5. Services Provided

What documents will you prepare?

For example, if you are setting up a living trust, will the attorney also prepare these documents:

  • Will
  • Durable Financial Power of Attorney
  • Living Will and/or Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care

Note: Make sure the cost estimates include the preparation of the above-mentioned documents.


6. Transferring Assets

If you prepare a living trust, will you assist in transferring the title of my assets into the name of the trust?

If not, find out what an attorney would likely charge to do this?


7. Updates

After the will or trust is prepared will you notify me of any changes in the law that might affect my estate plan?

It's important that your attorney keeps you apprised of pertinent changes in the law. You don't want any surprises later on.


8. Administrative Procedures

Look around. Is the attorney organized, and is the staff pleasant? You don't want to deal with sloppy and or unpleasant professionals—especially when you're the one paying?


9. Referrals

Will you provide me with the names and numbers of clients who I can call for a reference?

Get those names, and then call them before hiring any estate planning attorney.


10. Gut Check

Make your own assessment. Does the person seem forthright in his or her answers? Make sure you have a sense of trust and rapport with the person. You want to feel confident they're listening to what your needs are and that they'll be able to provide you with solutions.


Finding help on the internet

  • State Bar Associations
    Each state has its own Web site that allows you to see if an attorney is currently licensed to practice in that state, and, typically, it also gives you information on each attorney's practice areas.
  • Self Help Sites
    These Web sites provide educational information and forms that can allow you to prepare documents yourself. We recommend seeking an attorney to set up trusts and to properly take advantage of beneficial state laws. If you just need one type of a document like, say, a Living Will or a Health Care Power of Attorney, these self-help sites are a good place to obtain these documents.

    Here are some sites we've come across that you may find useful.