How to choose an estate lawyer

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slamfire
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How to choose an estate lawyer

Post by slamfire » Sun Oct 29, 2017 9:04 pm

I'm sorry if this is a dumb question but what's best way to go about choosing an estate planning lawyer?
I live in a large city and I have an overwhelming amount of choices.

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Sandtrap
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Re: How to chose an estate lawyer

Post by Sandtrap » Sun Oct 29, 2017 9:21 pm

slamfire wrote:
Sun Oct 29, 2017 9:04 pm
I'm sorry if this is a dumb question but what's best way to go about choosing an estate planning lawyer?
I live in a large city and I have an overwhelming amount of choices.
Based on my personal experiences.
Find a bunch that's near to you. Read the reviews online. Make initial consultation appointments with each. I ended up working with law firms in 2 states to get it done correctly.

You want to establish a relationship. Estate planning is as much about learning your family dynamics as it is crunching the numbers and making a long term plan. You also do not want a "drive thru window" "one size fits all" estate plan that an increasing number of attorneys seem to do because it is cost effective (profits). IE: fill out the forms, plug them into the template. . voila. . adjust to taste. . = boilerplate trust.
There is a strong "sell" element for some. Fancy binders. Colorful dividers. Etc. Caution.

You can also ask around if friends and family had experiences with "such n such" estate lawyer.
But again, it is you who must interview them to see if they are a good "fit". It's often a long term relationship with changes as life progresses and situations develop.

IMHO the quality of the relationship and professional savvy far outweighs the cost.
Again, be prepared for the "sales presentation". Similar to a FA shopping.

And, the more you know what "you" want, the better you will be able to shop. Read up on the Bogle threads referencing books such as, "Beyond the Grave", and so forth. Be armed.

I hope this is helpful to you. Not a lawyer but have been dealing with estate lawyers and firms, good and terrible, for decades.
mahalo,
j :D
(edited for clarity)
Last edited by Sandtrap on Mon Oct 30, 2017 10:36 am, edited 1 time in total.

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FIREchief
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Re: How to chose an estate lawyer

Post by FIREchief » Sun Oct 29, 2017 11:55 pm

I think the best way to chose an estate attorney starts with education. Invest time to learn the basics of estate planning. Compile a list of issues that are important in your situation. Think about who your beneficiaries will be and how you want them to receive benefits. Learn the basic types of trusts and understand how they work at a high level. Develop your own high level agenda for the initial discussion with the attorney and write down your most important questions. This is the narrow path.

The wide path, which many follow, is to simply find somebody close by with a nice office and leave almost everything up to them.
I am not a lawyer, accountant or financial advisor. Any advice or suggestions that I may provide shall be considered for entertainment purposes only.

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celia
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Re: How to chose an estate lawyer

Post by celia » Mon Oct 30, 2017 5:39 am

I've heard that many of the best are members of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys. These lawyers have more continuing ed than the states require for their lawyers. If one of them runs into a situation where they themselves have questions, they can talk to the other members for advice. Their company websites often have some educational resources for you to read before selecting a lawyer.

I also recommend that you first attend their workshops/presentations which some people see as sales pitches, where you can often learn who should or should not have a trust in your state and what your state's probate process is like. You can also benefit from having other audience members ask questions that you might not have considered and see how the lawyer(s) answers them. The first consultation is usually free and it will help to assess your needs.

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Re: How to chose an estate lawyer

Post by bsteiner » Mon Oct 30, 2017 8:05 am

Sandtrap wrote:
Sun Oct 29, 2017 9:21 pm
Find a bunch that's near to you. Read the reviews online. Make free initial consultation appointments with each. ...

There is a strong "sell" element for some. Fancy binders. Colorful dividers. ...
Location isn't particularly important. We have clients all over the country and some outside the country.

If you ask for a free consultation the better lawyers are more likely to decline. The time involved in 3 initial meetings can be more than the time involved in the drafting. At the initial meeting we have to get to know about you, your family members, your assets, and your objectives; and we have to go through the decision making process. If you're in the wrong place, you and the lawyer will both know it very quickly, just as if a Wal-Mart shopper wandered into Neiman-Marcus or a Neiman-Marcus shopper wandered into Wal-Mart. Unless you're worth 8 figures or more, I think a fair compromise is that if you excuse yourself after 20 or 30 minutes the lawyer won't charge for the time, but if you stay beyond that you'll pay for the time.

Fancy binders are a red flag. Whenever we see one in a fancy binder, the binder is likely to be more valuable than the contents.
celia wrote:
Mon Oct 30, 2017 5:39 am
I've heard that many of the best are members of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys ...
That, too, is a red flag. It's's one of three very similar groups that market drafting software to lawyers. They mainly attract lawyers switching into trusts and estates who don't have their own forms. Their drafting style is different from most.

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Re: How to chose an estate lawyer

Post by jebmke » Mon Oct 30, 2017 8:29 am

celia wrote:
Mon Oct 30, 2017 5:39 am
I've heard that many of the best are members of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys. These lawyers have more continuing ed than the states require for their lawyers. If one of them runs into a situation where they themselves have questions, they can talk to the other members for advice. Their company websites often have some educational resources for you to read before selecting a lawyer.
Out of curiosity I looked at the listing here for my state. Not one of the attorneys listed in Maryland has an advanced degree (Masters) in taxation, which is one of my criteria.
When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.

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unclescrooge
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Re: How to chose an estate lawyer

Post by unclescrooge » Mon Oct 30, 2017 8:59 am

jebmke wrote:
Mon Oct 30, 2017 8:29 am
celia wrote:
Mon Oct 30, 2017 5:39 am
I've heard that many of the best are members of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys. These lawyers have more continuing ed than the states require for their lawyers. If one of them runs into a situation where they themselves have questions, they can talk to the other members for advice. Their company websites often have some educational resources for you to read before selecting a lawyer.
Out of curiosity I looked at the listing here for my state. Not one of the attorneys listed in Maryland has an advanced degree (Masters) in taxation, which is one of my criteria.
Is that a common credential among estate planning attorney's?

Would a master's be geared towards personal taxation, or corporate/international taxation?

jebmke
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Re: How to choose an estate lawyer

Post by jebmke » Mon Oct 30, 2017 9:04 am

unclescrooge wrote:
Mon Oct 30, 2017 8:59 am
Is that a common credential among estate planning attorney's?

Would a master's be geared towards personal taxation, or corporate/international taxation?
I see the degree on attorney background pages at some law firms whose client base is individuals. I think the emphasis of the degree depends on the curriculum you create when you take the program.

edit: I think whether that degree is important for someone depends on their situation. For smaller estates, if all someone needs is basic documents, it may not be needed. For estate planning (financial) it could be very important - particularly to know the specifics of the state tax laws.
When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.

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dm200
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Re: How to choose an estate lawyer

Post by dm200 » Mon Oct 30, 2017 9:23 am

My opinion and experience (good and bad)

1. Ask any prospective attorney what kinds of clients they work with. You want someone who deals with folks in your situation. Do not ask if they work with folks like you and disclose your situation first.

2. Ask and verify if the attorney does primarily estate work and how long they have been doing it. We asked once the first question but not the second. The attorney said he did primarily estate work. Once we got into doing our wills, etc., we found out that he had been a litigator for 20+ years and just recently got into doing estate work. He had to "research" even the most basic issues and billed by the hour - so the meter was running.

3. Ask about how he/she bills. It could be by the hour or an estimate with a fixed price - based on what you choose.

4. Can you review a draft before being finalized?

5. Ask about wills vs trusts. Does the attorney do and recommend both, depending on all the details or just one or the other. In my opinion, you want an attorney that does and recommends both -depending on the client's situation and choice.

For our last plan/documents, our very experienced attorney had an up to one hour (billed at a certain modest amount - cannot recall dollar figure) review of the entire situation - and at the end made recommendation(s) and the fixed fee for the chosen plan. The fixed fee included review of the drafts and corrections as well as a detailed review (we did not need it). Some such attorneys only do work on hourly basis. For this, I would never choose such an attorney.

N_P
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Re: How to chose an estate lawyer

Post by N_P » Mon Oct 30, 2017 9:43 am

bsteiner wrote:
Mon Oct 30, 2017 8:05 am

Location isn't particularly important. We have clients all over the country and some outside the country.

If you ask for a free consultation the better lawyers are more likely to decline. The time involved in 3 initial meetings can be more than the time involved in the drafting. At the initial meeting we have to get to know about you, your family members, your assets, and your objectives; and we have to go through the decision making process.
What would be a reasonable amount to pay for these 3 initial meetings, at say a NYC, 5th ave firm?

Thank you.

bsteiner
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Re: How to chose an estate lawyer

Post by bsteiner » Mon Oct 30, 2017 10:08 am

unclescrooge wrote:
Mon Oct 30, 2017 8:59 am
jebmke wrote:
Mon Oct 30, 2017 8:29 am
celia wrote:
Mon Oct 30, 2017 5:39 am
I've heard that many of the best are members of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys. These lawyers have more continuing ed than the states require for their lawyers. If one of them runs into a situation where they themselves have questions, they can talk to the other members for advice. Their company websites often have some educational resources for you to read before selecting a lawyer.
Out of curiosity I looked at the listing here for my state. Not one of the attorneys listed in Maryland has an advanced degree (Masters) in taxation, which is one of my criteria.
Is that a common credential among estate planning attorney's?

Would a master's be geared towards personal taxation, or corporate/international taxation?
There are many lawyers in Maryland who have an LL.M. in taxation, though there are good tax and trusts and estates lawyers who don't. Those who do are unlikely to be part of the group Celia mentioned, or of either of the two similar groups.

The LL.M. program is one year full time, or several years part time. It's very intense. I went to NYU. When I was there you had to take a total of 12 courses for 2 credits each. Some were required, some were elective but most people took them, and some were completely elective. Personal tax, taxation of sales and exchanges, corporate tax, corporate reorganizations and tax procedure were required. There were also courses in tax accounting (which has nothing to do with accounting, but rather with issues of timing of income and deductions), advanced corporate tax problems, partnership tax, estate planning, estate and gift tax, income taxation of estates and trusts, deferred compensation, international tax, and advanced international tax, and others. The courses have changed over the years so there are some different ones offered now.

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Sandtrap
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Re: How to chose an estate lawyer

Post by Sandtrap » Mon Oct 30, 2017 10:21 am

FIREchief wrote:
Sun Oct 29, 2017 11:55 pm
I think the best way to chose an estate attorney starts with education. Invest time to learn the basics of estate planning. Compile a list of issues that are important in your situation. Think about who your beneficiaries will be and how you want them to receive benefits. Learn the basic types of trusts and understand how they work at a high level. Develop your own high level agenda for the initial discussion with the attorney and write down your most important questions. This is the narrow path.

The wide path, which many follow, is to simply find somebody close by with a nice office and leave almost everything up to them.
Great summary. And concise. I'll pass this on to my nephew who is "shopping".
thanks.

Phil DeMuth
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Re: How to choose an estate lawyer

Post by Phil DeMuth » Mon Oct 30, 2017 10:51 am

Another factor to consider is: how complicated are your estate planning needs? If it is likely that you will not be subject to estate tax, like 99% of U.S. citizens, and you don't live in a state that taxes estates or bequests, then your needs are more modest and don't need Darth Vader to come up with a plan.

The same probably holds true of your personal situation: if you have children from three ex-marriages, then you may need a more robust plan than if you have one intact family unit.

If you are UHNW, my diagnostic question would be: have you ever attended the Heckerling conference? When did you last go?

bsteiner
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Re: How to choose an estate lawyer

Post by bsteiner » Mon Oct 30, 2017 11:13 am

dm200 wrote:
Mon Oct 30, 2017 9:23 am
...
4. Can you review a draft before being finalized?
...
If the answer to that is no, that's not just a red flag, it's a parade of red flags.

WhyNotUs
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Re: How to choose an estate lawyer

Post by WhyNotUs » Mon Oct 30, 2017 11:37 am

First, always appreciative of BSteiner's wisdom.

Second, the OP is wise to spend the time needed to find someone qualified if their assets are significant. I served as executor of an estate that was drawn up by a family attorney and while the deceased's intentions were clear, not all of the work had been done in order to make that work. For instance, there was an intention for a Life Insurance Trust but it had not been executed properly. The consequences involved both taxation and some funds going to a beneficiary that might have intended to be to different person. Am currently helping a friend find an attorney who can help deal with a poorly written irrevocable trust.

In both cases, I think the deceased intentions are clear but the documents are not crafted well to implement those intentions.
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dm200
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Re: How to choose an estate lawyer

Post by dm200 » Mon Oct 30, 2017 11:42 am

bsteiner wrote:
Mon Oct 30, 2017 11:13 am
dm200 wrote:
Mon Oct 30, 2017 9:23 am
...
4. Can you review a draft before being finalized?
...
If the answer to that is no, that's not just a red flag, it's a parade of red flags.
Yes, I agree. A personal friend is an attorney who does general, individual practice law (wills, divorces, general law). She actually represented me in a civil matter in court and did well. During a chat, I asked he how she billed for estate documents, such as wills. She said she bills by the hour for her actual expended time. I asked her if the client can review the document(s) draft before finalizing. She said that was not done and never necessary. I asked what if she made a drafting error or omission. She said she never makes such a mistake. She and I would never agree on my/our estate documents.

My wife and I chose complex wills with testamentary trust(s) and reviewed the drafts before being finalized. The review and corrections (if needed) were part of the fixed price. I found two errors. The two wills are completely either identical or mirror images (which relatives or inlaws get what). Because the two wills are nearly the same, the drafting attorney did a lot of copy and paste. One paragraph in one will was just copied word for word - instead of a few words/names being changed. The second drafting error was that there was some situation where we wanted (in complete agreement with the attorney) some provision or wording slightly different than what is more common. Our requested provision was not worded completely as we wished. Neither was a big deal, but by reviewing the drafts, we caught two errors. Neither matter, in my opinion, required any legal education or training for me to find.

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Re: How to chose an estate lawyer

Post by 2015 » Mon Oct 30, 2017 11:44 am

FIREchief wrote:
Sun Oct 29, 2017 11:55 pm
I think the best way to chose an estate attorney starts with education. Invest time to learn the basics of estate planning. Compile a list of issues that are important in your situation. Think about who your beneficiaries will be and how you want them to receive benefits. Learn the basic types of trusts and understand how they work at a high level. Develop your own high level agenda for the initial discussion with the attorney and write down your most important questions. This is the narrow path.

The wide path, which many follow, is to simply find somebody close by with a nice office and leave almost everything up to them.
+1
Before going through the estate planning process last year, I read this book (highly recommend):

https://barnesandnoble.com/p/plan-y ... gJ5GvD_BwE

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dm200
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Re: How to choose an estate lawyer

Post by dm200 » Mon Oct 30, 2017 11:44 am

Whether an attorney offers a free "get acquainted" session or such in some kind of free session, or you pay a modest fee for an initial consultation (or both), I strongly believe that you should only choose and commit to an attorney if you are confident you can get along and communicate clearly.

afan
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Re: How to choose an estate lawyer

Post by afan » Mon Oct 30, 2017 1:03 pm

Although I would not use the association that was noted above- seems more like a marketing operation- there is a group membership in which is evidence of a high level of expertise.

As far as I know, one can use being a fellow of the American College of Trusts and Estates Counsel (ACTEC) as an indication of expertise. Many members are judges and academics who do not do client work. But enough of them are in regular practice that you can find some who are true experts and do work for individuals.

Not all trusts and estates experts are ACTEC fellows. But all ACTEC fellows are trusts and estates experts.

The simpler your situation, the less likely it is that you need the expertise of an ACTEC fellow. Because they are well known experts, in fact one can only become a fellow by being nominated by others, they do not come cheap.

ACTEC also publishes an academic journal, sponsors CLE and comments on proposed changes in trusts and estates law.

To repeat: Not all trusts and estates experts are ACTEC fellows. Presumably, some who could be don't feel the need, particularly if they are about as busy as they want to be and are not inclined to join another society. But if they are not, you may need to do more due diligence to figure out their level of expertise.

Although I agree you need to be comfortable with your attorneys, you are hiring them for their expertise. It does not do you any good to get someone who is personable, but not an expert in the law.
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celia
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Re: How to chose an estate lawyer

Post by celia » Mon Oct 30, 2017 2:40 pm

bsteiner wrote:
Mon Oct 30, 2017 8:05 am
celia wrote:
Mon Oct 30, 2017 5:39 am
I've heard that many of the best are members of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys ...
That, too, is a red flag. It's's one of three very similar groups that market drafting software to lawyers.
bsteiner, Besides the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys (AAEPA) and American College of Trusts and Estates Counsel (ACTEC), what is the third organization? Do you see a difference among members of each organization?

One difference I see is that lawyers in a particular geographic area may tend to go where other lawyers in their area go. (This could be a function of working for a large firm, though, since the firm would have its estate planning lawyers all belong to one society.) For example, I see several AAEPA members in my area, but not one listed at ACTEC. For San Francisco, it is the other way around.

Also, do you think a good estate planning lawyer should belong to one of the three associations?

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Re: How to chose an estate lawyer

Post by bsteiner » Mon Oct 30, 2017 3:18 pm

celia wrote:
Mon Oct 30, 2017 2:40 pm
bsteiner wrote:
Mon Oct 30, 2017 8:05 am
celia wrote:
Mon Oct 30, 2017 5:39 am
I've heard that many of the best are members of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys ...
That, too, is a red flag. It's's one of three very similar groups that market drafting software to lawyers.
bsteiner, Besides the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys (AAEPA) and American College of Trusts and Estates Counsel (ACTEC), what is the third organization? Do you see a difference among members of each organization?

One difference I see is that lawyers in a particular geographic area may tend to go where other lawyers in their area go. (This could be a function of working for a large firm, though, since the firm would have its estate planning lawyers all belong to one society.) For example, I see several AAEPA members in my area, but not one listed at ACTEC. For San Francisco, it is the other way around.

Also, do you think a good estate planning lawyer should belong to one of the three associations?
A good one is highly unlikely to join the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys or either of the other two similar groups. I would prefer not to mention the names of the other two, so as not to encourage anyone to search there.

ACTEC is highly regarded.

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