Typically, estate planning attorneys are transactional by nature, which is to say that they engage exclusively in the work of meeting with clients, assessing the client’s situation and needs, developing estate plans that best suit the client’s needs and wants, drafting, and delivery. Estate planning attorneys also commonly prepare trust documents and other ancillary documents as part of the estate plan, to wit: powers of attorney, designations of health care surrogates, living wills, and the like.
There exists a common misconception that estate planning attorneys either develop or copy a certain set of standard forms, which they use again and again. Others believe that, once you learn the process and develop your forms, the rest is simple. Unfortunately, some attorneys looking to work in estate planning have the same misconception. However, nothing could be farther from the truth.
Estate planning is an extremely complicated field of practice, the rules of which change on a continuing basis. In order to be effective, estate planning attorneys must devote a tremendous amount of time to continuing legal education in order to ensure that their clients are afforded the best advice, products, and services available.
The bottom line is that there are few people in your life who are going to charge you more money per hour than an attorney. Having been subjected for such a long period of time to paying hundreds of dollars for each hour of work performed by an attorney, the gravity of such charges is oftentimes overlooked by both clients paying and attorneys charging such fees. As a client, you should never become numb to the fact that someone is charging you the equivalent of $350.00 to $500.00 to do something for you. It is a lot money.
Likewise, attorneys commanding such hourly fees for the contemplated work must remain ever mindful of the fact that it is a lot of money. A client should never settle for anything short of exemplary products and services when they are paying hundreds of dollars an hour.
Unfortunately, there are too many attorneys actively practicing who offer estate planning and trust preparation in additional to several other areas of practice. Clients should be wary of seeking estate planning advice from an attorney who does not exclusively handle such work.
Estate planning is an ever-changing field of practice, requiring ongoing education and constant attention to detail. The level of commitment to this field of practice is substantial. In order to maintain the highest level of competence in the field, an attorney is required to devote the entirety of his time to doing so.
Joleen Searles handles estate planning. The entirety of her practice is exclusively in the field of estate planning. This level of commitment and dedication is precisely what clients should seek from whatever counsel they should hire; nothing less should ever be acceptable to you as a client.
Once you find an attorney who practices exclusively in estate planning, you must next ensure that the attorney is qualified to provide an estate plan that is specifically tailored to your needs.
Unfortunately, too many attorneys today, even those who handle estate planning exclusively, have the mindset of “one size fits all.” Instead of tailoring a plan to fit what the client needs and wants, the attorney tailors the client’s needs and wants to the attorney’s plan. These attorneys have acquired a set of documents and an estate plan along the way that they push on all of their clients. Regardless of who walks through the door, the plan is always the same.
As with hiring any person who provides specialized services, it is an extremely difficult task to interview and find the most qualified estate planning attorney. As uncomfortable as it may seem, you must be prepared to ask a lot of questions. Always remind yourself that you are going to be paying hundreds of dollars an hour to this person and that it is not unreasonable for that person to answer some basic questions for you. Any attorney who is right for you is never going to complain about having to answer some preliminary questions. If the attorney you are interviewing pushes back on your questions or seems impatient with you, you should strongly consider looking elsewhere.
Also, the determination of the best plan for your needs and wants as a client involves extensive inquiries by your attorney and consideration of different alternatives. As a client, you need to beware of the attorney who provides you a plan and quote without having first exhaustively inquired of you. No attorney qualified to handle the preparation of your estate plan is going to have any idea regarding the plan or the costs of the plan prior to having a comprehensive understanding of your personal situation. This includes obtaining a list of the entirety of your assets and holdings, familial relationship, special needs, if any, life insurance, retirement assets, annuities, and other investments, and a complete list of your goals and objectives in life with specific regard to your plan.
All too often, having failed to identify the estate planning attorney who has a one-size fits all approach, clients have a false sense of comfort and truly believe that their specific needs, goals, and objectives are being fulfilled and satisfied in the best possible way. The one-size fits all estate planning attorneys unfortunately provide a disservice to clients—oftentimes causing more harm than good.
An estate planning attorney who is truly competent in the field has an arsenal of tools at his or her disposal, all of which remain at the ready. Every single client is different. Every set of circumstance and every nuance of a client’s situation requires attention and consideration when planning.
Joleen Searles prides herself on the fact that every day, with every single client, she provide estate plans that are hand-crafted to accomplish every client’s objectives. Any client devoting the time necessary and the money required to develop a proper estate plan should require nothing short of that level of service.
No person who has developed an estate plan can simply set it up and forget about it. Like that beautiful car that you purchased, you have to maintain it. As tax laws change and as circumstances in life change, so must the estate plan. After we deliver an estate plan, our work does not stop. We actively audit our client’s estate plans on an ongoing basis to ensure that our clients are receiving the greatest benefit from the plan.
We also actively encourage all of our clients to alert us to any material changes in circumstances; a death in the family, a divorce, a substantial change in assets and debts, changes in beneficiaries, termination or acquisition of life insurance policies, changes in medical conditions, changes in any client’s cognitive abilities, changes to federal and state laws, case law, and changes to the IRS Code. We do so because an estate plan requires our continuing attention in order to maximize and maintain our client’s goals. For all of these reasons, our clients are encouraged to maintain ongoing communication. Likewise, we routinely follow up with clients to remind our clients of the necessity of reviewing any changes in circumstances.
We oftentimes encounter potential clients who say “I already have an estate plan, I did that years ago. I’m all set.” Clients who have such a belief have been provided a disservice by another attorney along the way. For this reason, we offer all new clients an opportunity for a free consultation and review of any existing estate plan documents in order to determine whether their needs and wants would be satisfied in the event they were to die tomorrow. We offer this service free of charge in order to eliminate any concern regarding the costs of review. However, more importantly, we offer this free service in order to ensure that those who “already have it covered” are not going to suffer tremendous financial and other losses due to an outdated or inappropriate plan.
In our practice, we have had countless clients who have accepted the offer for a free consultation and have been shocked by the results. Those who believed, whole-heartedly, that they had maximum protection against tax liability were surprised to understand they had been left exposed to a liability that could easily be avoided. Others came to realize that the plan they were provided was entirely inadequate.
For those who have a plan, you have nothing to lose by allowing us to review the plan and consult with you regarding your needs and wants. It never hurts to have a second opinion. Your estate plan is one of the most important decisions you will make when it comes to your family and those who will inherit from you. It deserves sufficient time and attention.