Littlejohn column: How to choose the right estate planning attorney
Choosing the right estate planning attorney can be important for many reasons. However, knowing who to choose isn’t always very straightforward. The best estate planning attorney in your area might not be the best one for your situation. As such, you should consider focusing on the attorney’s technical skills, personality, wisdom, and values.
Here are three factors to consider when choosing an estate planning attorney:
1. Are they are technically proficient?
First, the right estate planning attorney for you must be technically proficient. Indeed, they need to know estate and trust law inside and out. But more importantly, they need to understand how it applies to someone like you.
In addition, they need to stay current by familiarizing themselves with existing and any expected legislation changes. And they need to know how all these things apply to your unique situation and location, as state-by-state inheritance and estate laws can vary significantly.
When evaluating an estate planning attorney’s technical skills, consider the following:
Specialty — what percentage of their work pertains to trust and estate planning?
Jurisdiction — what jurisdictions and physical locations do their expertise cover?
Differentiation — what sets them apart from their competitors?
Risk Management — how do they manage and communicate the potential risks you face?
Operations and accountability — how do they ensure proper action is taken to complete the estate plan, and what’s their ongoing review process?
2. Do they work with clients like you?
Once you’ve found an estate planning attorney with the technical expertise you need, determine whether they work with clients like you.
While many estate planning techniques and strategies are common, some are not. Ideally, you want to find an estate planning attorney who works with clients just like you when it comes to attributes like net worth, asset and income types, family dynamics, and legacy goals. Ask potential attorneys what their typical client profile looks like. For example:
- Do they work with business owners?
- Are their typical clients part of traditional or blended families?
- What’s the average net worth of their clientele?
If you’ve recently experienced a $10 million windfall but your prospective attorney typically works with smaller clients, it may be best to look elsewhere. Often, the strategies, considerations and techniques to plan for a six-figure net worth aren’t the same as those that are needed for a seven- or eight-figure net worth.
3. Do they feel like a good fit?
Lastly, the right estate planning attorney for you must feel like a fit.
Consider their personality — does it jibe with you and your family? Remember that your attorney will work closely with your immediate family to communicate and implement your estate plan. Therefore, find someone who is likely to be a good fit, so you can develop a healthy working relationship.
In addition, consider your prospective attorney’s values, legacy views, wisdom and personal experiences. Indeed, many attorneys will do their best to understand and implement your unique wishes. However, some may have conflicting views, thereby creating some unnecessary challenges.
You can start by identifying your own thoughts on legacy, stewardship, and multi-generational wealth, and then finding an attorney with similar ideas. This will help ensure that your wishes are fully understood and implemented in the best possible way.
Brian Littlejohn, CFP®, CFA is the founder of Sherwood Wealth Management in Basalt. Brian provides his clients with customized investment management and comprehensive financial planning services to help them organize, grow, and protect their assets.
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