Hiring an estate planning attorney is an important first step towards protecting you and your family during transitions of wealth from one generation to the next. Having the confidence to choose a lawyer that will meet those needs might be difficult due to a lack of experience with attorneys or with the topic of estate planning.
To address these concerns, we’ve compiled a list of considerations and other nuances to help you make an informed hiring decision.
Think About Your Specific Goals and Timelines
Estate planning can mean something different depending on your life stage, family dynamics, net worth, and other goals. For the young family, estate planning may be about having documentation in place to nominate a guardian for their children. For a recently retired couple, estate planning might mean reducing inheritance tax burdens to preserve assets for future generations.
The point is that estate planning is a goal-driven process. Your attorney’s job is to provide you with the legal knowledge and tools to help you meet those objectives.
Having a list of priorities in advance can help your attorney present options that will achieve them. Expressing timelines or other considerations can also provide important context that may alter your estate planning attorney’s recommendations.
Estate Planning Is More Than a Last Will and Testament
You may primarily think of estate planning as a will that simply states who receives what assets from a loved one who has recently passed.
While a primary goal of estate planning is the transfer of assets to heirs and beneficiaries, the planning can be more comprehensive. Some of the other common goals you may have for an estate plan are:
- Would you like to avoid Probate
- Determining who will manage your affairs once you pass or lose capacity (i.e., nominations for the personal representative, trustee, and other fiduciary positions)
- Naming guardians to care for minor children
- Succession planning for the family business
- Deciding when heirs receive access to assets
- Protecting heirs from themselves or their creditors
Some of the legal documents that may accompany an estate plan, in addition to a will, could include:
- A power of attorney (for financial decision-making while incapacitated)
- An advanced medical directive or living will (for medical decision making while incapacitated)
- A trust and related documentation (revocable, irrevocable, ILITs, special needs, and other purpose-driven vehicles)
Think Long-Term About Your Choice of Estate Planning Attorney
When hiring an estate planning attorney, you may want to think long-term. Estate plans are not legal documents that you execute and then bury in an office drawer. Rather, estate planning is an ongoing process that requires periodic reevaluation of your goals, your family needs, and changes in the law. Your estate planning attorney should be someone you are confident to work with for years to come.
The Cost of Hiring the Estate Planning Attorney
Having an open conversation about estimated costs for estate planning services can help avoid surprise bills and help create reasonable expectations.
Whiles some attorneys charge flat rates, many attorneys charge for their services at an hourly rate, which means the cost for a particular legal service depends on the attorney’s rate and their time spent on the matter. Several different factors can determine a particular attorney’s hourly rate such as:
- Geographic location (i.e., what’s the market rate for your area?)
- Nature of the legal services (e.g., the difference in hourly rates for an estate planning attorney versus an employment lawyer)
- The attorney’s experience, skills, and expertise. Generally, the greater an attorney’s expertise, the more valuable their time is.
In addition to an attorney’s hourly rate, the complexity of an estate plan can also impact the amount of time it takes to complete. This can increase the overall cost of services. For example, a trust-based plan may take more time to draft and execute than a standard will-based plan.
This is why many clients prefer flat fees for estate planning.
Your assets can also alter the complexity. For example, those with business interests, real estate holdings, or other assets may require additional estate planning services.
Evaluating Competency in Estate Planning
As mentioned above, estate planning is the intersection of a broad range of goals that blend your family, your finances, your taxes, your business, and other priorities. Hiring a competent estate planning attorney is key for obtaining strategies and advice that reflects your goals and the law. As a result, what it means to be competent in estate planning can also vary depending on who you ask. The competency for drafting a simple will is not the same as the competency needed to transfer a business interest or to implement tax-reduction strategies.
The team of attorneys at Wiles McMichael helps those in Georgia and South Carolina with all aspects of estate planning – both simple and complex. This includes related tax and business planning.
The firm also helps manage clients’ probates and trust administrations to properly distribute assets and fulfill other affairs of an estate after the passing of a loved one. Our mission is to find the most efficient and cost-effective approach to building and executing a plan that meets your family’s goals.
Contact Wiles McMichael today and take the next step in hiring an estate planning attorney.