Do a search for “Atlanta estate planning attorney” and you’ll come up with thousands of names. It can be pretty overwhelming. How do you know which one to choose?
The relationship with your estate planning attorney is an important one. Your estate planning attorney will help guide you through some of the most important decisions you’ll make about your financial future. Estate planning can be a very personal and emotional process, and you need to feel comfortable sharing your goals as well as your concerns.
While everyone’s tastes differ in terms of compatibility, there are a few things you can look for to ensure you’re making a good investment.
Dig into their website
Most estate planning attorneys will have a website, and you can learn a lot about them from what they’ve put online.
Here are some questions to get you started.
Do they have a particular specialty?
First things first, you want to hire someone to do your estate planning who specializes in estate planning. You may be tempted by a lawyer with a general practice that could help your kid with a speeding ticket and help you with your estate plan.
One stop shopping is helpful in a lot of situations, but legal services aren’t one of them.
Every area of law is unique and complex with its own set of rules and regulations. Knowing how to draft a contract doesn’t mean you know how to create an estate plan, and vice versa. The lawyer who does your estate plan needs to be well-versed in estate law and up to date on any changes. A lawyer can’t do that if they’re focusing on too many other areas of the law.
You may even want someone with a more…well, specific…specialty. Do you know you want to create provisions for your pet in your estate planning? Find an estate planning lawyer who’s created pet trusts. Do you own a small business? Look for a lawyer who helps create estate plans for small business owners.
How long have they been practicing?
A fresh-out-of-law school estate planning attorney may do a fine job, and they’ll probably have a relatively low hourly rate. But they won’t have the experience and insight you’ll get from an estate planning attorney that’s been practicing longer.
Is there really that much to know? Aren’t wills sort of a template thing?
Good question. Yes, you’ll find templates of wills online, but they won’t help you meet your goals because they’re meant to be a best guess at what the average person might need — not what you and your family need.
After talking with an estate planning attorney, many people find that a trust actually better suits their needs. Maybe they don’t want their family members to have to go through probate. Or an attorney helps them identify potential issues with their choice of guardian or how they’re planning to leave money to their children.
Because estate law and tax law are complex, these are things you can’t be expected to know. You need an estate law attorney to offer guidance based on their experience.
How do they charge?
Not all estate planning attorneys approach billing the same way. Understanding how an attorney charges can help you identify whether they’re a good fit for you.
Hourly charges have been the traditional norm for many, many years. That means the lawyer bills you for each minute they spend on the case, usually in 6-minute increments.
An estate planning lawyer who uses hourly billing may give you a rough cost estimate at the beginning of your relationship. They’ll tell you how many hours they think they’ll spend on your case and thus what a cost range will be.
Of course, one of the drawbacks to hourly billing is that the final bill can come as a surprise. The attorney may have anticipated that preparing your estate plan would take them 10 to 15 hours. In the end, it takes 20 hours. At $300 an hour, an additional five hours would increase your bill by $1500.
Some modern estate planning attorneys have shifted away from hourly billing. Those lawyers use flat fee pricing.
Flat fee estate planning attorneys charge clients with a flat fee rather than an hourly rate.
These attorneys have a rate for a particular type of package, like creating and funding a trust and drafting the accompanying documents. This fee generally includes any communication with the attorney (like phone calls, emails, and meetings) as well as all the time they’ll need to complete the documents and make sure you understand them.
Of course, the biggest benefit of a flat fee is your certainty about the cost of your estate plan. You’ll sign a contract at the beginning of the project, and you know what the final bill is going to be.
How do they structure meetings?
Most estate planning attorneys switched to virtual meetings once the pandemic began. Some have moved back to in-person meetings. Some have kept virtual meetings in place but offer in-person meetings at a client’s request.
Consider how you’d like to have meetings with your estate planning attorney, and look at their website to see what they offer.
One piece of the estate planning process requires an in-person meeting — signing the final documents. Attorneys have found creative ways to safely offer in-person signings by meeting outdoors in the parking lots of their office buildings.
Since you will have to do at least one part of the process in person, you may want to consider exactly where in Atlanta an estate planning attorney works. If you live in Brookhaven, check to see if there’s a Brookhaven estate planning attorney you like. That way you can avoid a long drive when it’s time to sign the paperwork.
Of course, if there’s an estate planning attorney that really fits the bill for you but is a little further away, that might be worth it. As long as they offer virtual meetings, you may be happy to make a longer drive once and know that you’re working with someone you trust.
Do they belong to any groups or associations?
There are local, state, and national organizations focused on estate planning. Membership in these organizations helps attorneys stay up-to-date on changes to the law and the practice of estate planning.
Even better than membership is information that shows the attorney actively participates in one of these associations. Have they been on the board or leadership team? Have they written for or spoken at association events?
All of these are indications that the attorney is staying well-informed about estate planning issues in your state.
Of course, you can also look for affiliations that are important to you personally. Do you want to work with someone who’s involved in local charitable organizations? Or an attorney that supports certain causes that are important to you?
Have they published any books or articles about estate planning?
Doing the research and writing a book or article takes significant time, energy, and expertise. An attorney doesn’t have to publish to be good at what they do. But it’s a good sign that they’re an expert in their field.
At Siedentopf Law, we make it easy for you to protect your family’s future with a well-designed estate plan. Plenty of expert guidance and no unpleasant surprises. Schedule a video or phone consultation right from your computer.