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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 16, 2022
Fountain pen writing on paper

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 that you’ll want to get answers to. By using our platform, you’ll have all the information you need to answer many of these questions and easily compare attorneys.

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. You’ll find all of this information in the attorney profiles on our site.

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.

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 attorney will also have experience seeing an estate plan come into effect after a client’s death. First-hand experience of how an estate is actually executed 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.

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 compensation models ahead of time to avoid surprises.

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Do they have good online reviews?

If you search for your attorney online, you will likely find some sites where prior clients have left reviews. It’s important to take a look at these to get an understanding of the feedback being shared about your attorney. But don’t take each review as gospel. They’re typically a simple star rating (1-5), and it’s often hard to tell whether each review is from a verified client.

Through evident, you’ll get access to a robust rating system for each attorney that goes beyond a simple 1-5 rating. Our users rate each attorney on a range of factors including

  1. how responsive they are to emails or phone calls,
  2. how well the attorney estimated the cost of their services and, if that cost changed, whether they were clear about why (in other words, did they send a surprise large bill at the end of the case!), and
  3. how well the attorney explained the process and options for resolving the legal issue.

When choosing between lawyers with similar experience, these types of factors can make all the difference.

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 periodically review your estate plan 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. 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 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 complete 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 or retirement planner if you have one.

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 personal life. 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 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 lawyer are designed to help you get comfortable with your choice of estate planning attorney 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 fit for you.

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

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