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9 questions to ask your estate planning lawyer

When you’re ready to make an estate plan, here are the key questions to ask an estate planning lawyer before hiring one.

evident Editorial Team
November 28, 2023
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If you’re looking for an estate planning lawyer, you want to be sure to make the right choice for you. Price, of course, is one consideration and often a big one. But you should consider a number of other factors including the estate attorney’s experience, expertise, and the scope of work being offered.

When deciding which attorney to work with, below are some questions to ask an estate planning attorney that you'll want to get answers to before making your decision.

An experienced estate planning attorney will be able to answer these questions and give you a sense of what to expect from working with them as you consider your hiring decision.

So, here is a handy checklist of questions to ask an estate planning lawyer, which we'll cover in more detail below.

Checklist of questions to ask your lawyer
Key Takeaways

Is estate planning your primary focus?

Some attorneys focus exclusively on estate planning. Others may provide several different types of legal services.

All things being equal, working with an attorney who focuses exclusively on estate planning can be beneficial. They’re more likely to have seen a broader range of estate planning circumstances and can strategically assess your particular needs.

But we don’t recommend discounting lawyers with a broader practice. You’ll want to take a holistic view of the attorney to find the best fit, as a general practitioner can also be a good estate planning attorney.

How long have you been practicing estate planning law?

Experience matters, and you’ll want to find an estate planning attorney who has at least several years of experience in estate planning.

Ideally, your estate planning attorney will also have experience seeing an estate plan come into effect after a client's death. First-hand experience with the probate process and overseeing everything from estate taxes to distributing assets to beneficiaries can be invaluable.

Note, however, that more experience can oftentimes mean higher cost. So keep in mind that there are many smart and capable estate planning attorneys that just might have fewer years of experience but charge a more reasonable price.

How much will it cost to draft my estate plan?

The cost of preparing an estate plan can vary widely among attorneys, and also on what estate planning documents you need help with.

For instance, a will is the backbone of many estate plans, but there are other estate planning tools such as trusts, powers of attorney, and more when creating comprehensive estate plans. (Indeed, the cost of creating different trusts can vary depending on whether you're setting up a revocable living trust or an irrevocable trust).

Many estate planning attorneys charge flat fees, instead of billing by the hour. Some do both, where they charge a fixed rate for standard services like establishing a trust, then charge an hourly rate for special research tasks.

In any case, it's wise to inquire about how the attorney charges for their estate planning services ahead of time to avoid surprises.

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What estate planning tools do you typically recommend for someone like me?

In fairness, the estate planning attorney may not be able to go into much detail in an initial consultation. Ultimately you want an estate planner who will help you set up a customized estate plan tailored to your circumstances.

But different people have different needs and priorities. Perhaps you want to avoid the time and costs of the probate process and are most interested in how to transfer your assets so as to avoid probate. Or maybe you have strong preferences regarding end-of-life medical care and are more focused on something like a medical power of attorney or a living will.

So whether it's tax planning, creating a living will, or keeping assets out of probate, a different estate planning tool (or tools) make sense depending on each person's unique circumstances. As long as the estate attorney has a general sense of your circumstances and priority, they should be able to give you some proper expectations of what estate planning work will be required for your estate planning project.

Do you offer ongoing services to ensure my estate plan is up to date?

When you make an estate plan, your estate planning attorney will account for your circumstances at that time and try to anticipate any expected changes.

But life happens, minds change, new accounts or assets may come into the frame, or new laws may be implemented that affect your estate. So it’s important to conduct periodic reviews to ensure it is up to date.

Some estate planning attorneys will offer for a small additional fee to semi-annually or annually review your estate. This is a great option, and you should consider using an attorney that offers this.

It may seem unnecessary at first blush, but think of it as annual insurance for your estate plan. At the right price, this additional service is well worth it.

How long will it take you to complete my estate planning project?

As with any legal issue, your estate planning attorney should clearly explain the estate planning process to you. If you’re tackling your estate plan early enough, typically there is no rush. But that may not always be the case.

A comprehensive estate plan will also take into account financial and accounting aspects, and you should speak with your attorney about whether it is beneficial to connect them with your accountant, any financial advisors, or retirement planner if you have them.

Putting in an estate plan is typically a one-time exercise, so you want to ensure at the outset that your plan covers the broader picture of your financial and legal affairs, as well as your personal life and wishes. From there, periodic reviews to make updates are typically sufficient.

Will you send me my estate planning documents to review?

This is one of several process-oriented questions to ask your estate planning attorney that can be useful to cover.

Your attorney should send you your estate planning documents to review before finalizing them for signing and execution. Some actions can be irrevocable (see “irrevocable trust”), and you want to make sure that all of your wishes are accurately reflected in your documents before singing them.

Make a plan to review your documents and note any questions you have for your estate planning attorney

What happens if you retire or move on to a different firm?

It is entirely possible that your estate planning attorney may retire or move to a different law firm before you pass away. You’ll want to make sure that your attorney has a plan in place to notify clients like you of any such changes.

This is even more important if you have your attorney store the original copy of your will for safekeeping.

What is the best way to get in touch with you?

It’s important to know how best to connect with your lawyer if issues or questions arise.

Some lawyers prefer e-mail, while others might prefer speaking over the phone or by video. And some lawyers might have you reach out through their secretary or paralegal, while others are happy to have you contact them directly.

There is no right answer here. You should consider your own preferences between phone, video or email and whether the attorney can accommodate your preferences.

The bottom line

These questions to ask an estate planning attorney at an initial meeting are designed to help you get comfortable with your choice of lawyer and balance price, experience, scope of services, and other important considerations.

You’ll be working with your attorney to plan for very personal matters, so trust your instincts on whether they are the right estate planning attorney for you.

And if you are specifically dealing with a probate issue, here are the key questions to ask a probate lawyer.