10 Things to Look for When Hiring an Estate Lawyer
As a legal team, we’re often asked when is the best time to start planning your legacy or estate, and the truth is that it’s generally a good time as soon as you start working and accumulating assets or when you get married or have children. But it’s also a good idea if you have specific wishes that pertain to how you want to be treated posthumously and whom or what organization is going to feature as part of your legacy.
You might also be thinking that this is a conversation that you’re only going to need later when the reality of life may well hasten that day so we want to guide you along the way to getting the best possible legal advice that works for you.
Knowing what you want from your Estate Lawyer
As with every other major part of "life planning", not all advisors are created equal nor serve the same purpose, so you should know what it is you want from your estate lawyer before you start the search to be matched with the right one. The level of legal advice and representation you'll need will be determined by your financial status when your start planning for your estate. If you've been fortunate to have a sophisticated financial and asset reality, then you're going to need lawyers that specialize accordingly, whereas if you're just starting as a parent or life partner your circumstances will differ from someone who just celebrated their 50th anniversary.
Why do you need an Estate Lawyer?
These are lawyers that are specifically trained in the type of law that governs how your legacy will be handled after your death. They can also be instructed should you be entering into an unfortunate period of illness or deteriorating mental health and need a solid plan for your family or friends.
When will you need one?
In truth, you probably will only be thinking about instructing a lawyer of this nature later on in life, but as soon as you start accumulating any resources or when you start a family is a good time to find one.
So what does an Estate Lawyer do?
These lawyers are also known as "probate" lawyers and are specially trained in dealing with the drafting of living trusts, offer advice on estate taxes and also ensure that your assets can't be attached by your beneficiaries' creditors posthumously or nefariously. They also make sure that your wishes are carried out precisely as you wanted them to be.
(In other words, they draw up your will?)
At their most basic level of service provision, they draw up your will and act as "executor" on your final estate, which means that they will ensure that your last wishes are carried out as you would have wanted them to. (But you can't stop your daughter from marrying that man).
They can also advise on tax, power of lawyer, and medical situations.
What about living trusts?
Also knows as "revocable living trusts", these are specific instructions that govern the use of your assets either while you're still alive, should you become ill, or mentally unstable, or in the unfortunate event of your passing. These instructions are "revocable" pending your recovery from illness but become irrevocable upon your death.
Money Matters (yours and your lawyers)
Your lawyer should always be 100% upfront and transparent about what you're going to be paying them, over which period, and if there is a demand on your estate for any legal fees when you're no longer here. This is super important because the last thing you want is to have your loved ones labored with unforeseen expenses because you didn't plan sufficiently.
Does your lawyer handle medical matters?
Have you ever given thought to what you want to happen to you if you're unable to make medical decisions that relate to things like organ donation, whether your not you want to be kept on life support or for what period and who is allowed to make those decisions in your stead?
It can be absolutely heartbreaking to not have these instructions in place and the leaving the burden of choice onto a loved one that is now faced with the reality of having to decide whether or not they have to disconnect life support machines or allow or disallow your resuscitation.
Your lawyer should be able to handle this and your will and legacy planning.
What if your lawyer waves off "probate"?
This should be a reason for concern as the entire point of instructing an estate lawyer is so that you won't have to go into "probate". (Probate happens when one hasn't planned sufficiently or correctly in terms of your estate/legacy planning and now a portion of or the entirety of your posthumous legal situation has to be handled on your behalf by the state and this can cause protracted legal proceedings, adding to an already difficult situation.
Are you comfortable with your lawyer?
This might sound strange at first, but consider this: you're going to sharing your most intimate ideas, feelings, and information with your lawyer. They may yet be privy to information that has been secretly in your family for many years have access to sensitive financial information and so you have to feel without any doubt that they can be trusted and that they take you and your circumstances seriously. That you're not just another "number" or nameless client.
At different stages of your life and growth, you're going to need different levels of advice and support and so you should be looking for a legal partner that walks a long walk with you and is interested in your circumstances. If you are not specifically trained in this type of law or don't have sufficient a grasp of all the legal intricacies and ramifications that comes with estate planning, then you need to reach out to partners that are experienced and who you can trust.