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5 Questions To Ask Before Hiring An Estate Planning Lawyer— Part 1

Hiring an estate planning lawyer can be an intimidating task, especially since you’ll be discussing personal topics like death, incapacity, and important life events. But it definitely doesn’t have to be that way. Instead, it can be the most empowering decision you ever make for yourself and your loved ones. Read on for tips on what to look for when choosing an estate planning attorney.


The key to transforming the experience of hiring an estate planning lawyer from one that you dread into one that empowers you is to educate yourself first. This is the person who is going to be there for your family when you can’t be, so you want to really understand who the lawyer is as a human, not just an attorney. Of course, you’ll also want to find out the kind of services your potential lawyer offers and how they run their business. To this end, we're sharing five questions to ask to ensure you don’t end up paying for legal services that you don’t need, expect, or want. Once you know exactly what you should be looking for when choosing a planning professional, you’ll be much better positioned to hire an attorney who will provide the kind of love, attention, care, and trust your family deserves.

1. How do you bill for your services?

There’s no reason you should be afraid to ask a lawyer how he or she bills for the work they do on your behalf. In fact, questions about billing and payment should be among the very first subjects you bring up when you first contact them. No one wants surprises, especially when it comes to the bill.


If you call a lawyer’s office and they are reluctant or refuse to give you clear answers to questions about how they charge for their services, determine your fees, or what they expect certain services will cost, this should be a red flag. When someone is hesitant to discuss their billing or business practices, you could be in for some major surprises about what things cost down the road.


For estate planning, it's helpful to find a lawyer who bills for all of their services on a flat-fee basis —and never on an hourly basis—unless it’s required by the court for limited purposes. And ideally, you want a lawyer who will guide you through a process of discovery in which they learn about your family dynamics, your assets, and they educate you about what would happen for your family and to your assets if and when something happens to you, and then support you in choosing the right plan for you that meets your budget and your desired outcomes.


Our process for your planning begins with a Family Wealth Planning Session™, in which we educate you about the law, and you educate us about your family dynamics and assets. Then, you choose the right plan, at the right cost, for the people you love.


2. How will you respond to my needs on an ongoing basis?

One of the biggest complaints people have about working with lawyers is that they are notoriously unresponsive. Indeed, I’ve heard of cases in which clients went weeks without getting a call back from their lawyer. This is all too common, but totally unacceptable, especially when you’re paying them big bucks.


In most cases, however, these lawyers aren’t blowing you off—they simply don’t have enough support or the systems in place to be able to be responsive. Far too many lawyers believe they can take care of everything themselves. From paperwork and client meetings to scheduling and returning phone calls to connecting their clients with other advisors, there are just too many responsibilities for one person to manage all on their own.


It's important to ask the lawyer whether there will be an open avenue of communication, and how they will respond to your needs if you decide to become their client. With estate planning, especially, you will need to feel supported to keep your plan up to date on an ongoing basis, and you'll need to feel confident and comfortable that you can get through to your lawyer to notify him or her, or their office, about changes in your life that might warrant updating your estate plan. Ideally, all calls to your lawyer should be pre-scheduled with a clear agenda, so you both can be ready to focus on your specific needs.


Next week in part two, we’ll talk more about the ways in which your attorney should communicate with you, and we'll list the remaining three questions to ask before hiring your estate planning lawyer.

This article is a service of Holly Hurley, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and for your family. That's why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Planning Session, and mention this article to find out how to get your Planning Session at no charge.


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