The attorney’s ad tells you that you can get a “comprehensive estate plan” for $800. Does that sound too good to be true? It may be. A bargain estate plan will be a waste of your money if it will not do what you need it to do. Before you rush in, here are some questions to ask. If you get a “yes” answer to every question, then maybe you have a real bargain on your hands.
1. Will the attorney (not a secretary or paralegal) sit down with you for as long as it takes to get a thorough understanding of your situation and your objectives, and to educate you about alternative approaches you might want to consider?
2. Once you decide on a plan, what will be included? As far as documents, your plan should probably include one or more trust agreements, a pour-over will (for each spouse, if you are planning as a couple), durable power(s) of attorney, advance health-care directive(s), authorization(s) for your medical care providers to talk with your designated decision-makers and family members/loved ones, and documents to transfer your assets into your trust(s). This last point is crucial. Your estate won’t work unless title to each of your assets is reviewed and transferred as appropriate.
3. Is the attorney experienced in estate planning (not every attorney is good at every area of law) and does he or she have a good reputation among people who would know a good estate planning attorney from a bad one? One place to check is www.martindale.com. You can go there to find out how an attorney is regarded by his or her peers.
4. Will the attorney give you as much time as it takes to help you understand your plan and to answer all of your questions about it? Most attorneys charge by the hour after the documents are signed, and they may not be all that generous with their time before you sign. Find out how (or if) the attorney will charge you if you have questions after your estate plan is established.
5. Will you meet with a paralegal or an attorney when it comes time to sign your documents? You have the right to legal counsel at that time, which only a licensed attorney can give you.
6. Are all costs included in the fee? Don’t be surprised by “add ons” to your bill for such things as recording fees, notary fees, and photocopies.
7. Will your estate plan include adequate provisions for you and your loved ones to address the possibility of someone being disabled or incapacitated?
8. Will the attorney be looking out for your needs exclusively? Some estate planners try to sell their clients investment and life insurance products, which raises a potential conflict of interest. You have a right to an attorney who will be looking out for you.
9. Will you have a means to get immediate access to your advance health-care directive? If you need to go to the emergency room, or if you are hospitalized while you are travelling, will you have a way to have your advance directive available, short of carrying it with you everywhere you go?
10. Does the attorney have a program in place to help you make sure that your estate plan will be kept current? One thing you can be sure of is that things will change: the law, your assets, your health, and maybe even the list of people you would want making decisions for you and your assets. If there is no program in place to help you make sure that your estate plan is kept up to date, it will be deficient within a year or two, and it is just a matter of time before it may do you and your loved ones more harm than good.
11. Will the attorney or the attorney’s law firm be there to help you and your loved ones down the line, when someone dies or becomes incapacitated?
12. Will working with this attorney give you the peace of mind of knowing you have done the best you can do by yourself and your loved ones?
Too many estate plans fail because of lack of understanding on the part of the clients, lack of implementing the plan (such as by making sure that assets that should be transferred into a revocable trust are actually transferred), and by lack of updating. There is no point in investing money in an estate plan that you are not confident will work effectively when the inevitable or unexpected happens, such as death, incapacity, divorce, or other events that will rob your loved ones of their inheritance.
Check out www.est8planning.com for more information about working with caring attorneys to create an estate plan that will work for you and your loved ones.