How to find the right estate attorney
How to Find a Will Attorney
If you are searching for a will attorney, then you should first draw up a list of potential candidates. Ask friends and family, as well as other attorneys, for a referral. You should then schedule a consultation with the lawyer, where you ask questions about the services the lawyer provides and their fee. To hire the best lawyer, you should choose someone with sufficient experience who is easy to talk with.
Contact your bar association.You can get a referral by calling or emailing your state or local bar association.You can find your bar association by typing your state or city and “attorney referral” into an Internet search engine.
- Some bar associations promise that any attorney referred will charge a low consultation fee (around -40).
Ask friends or family.If someone you know has used a lawyer to draft a will or plan their estate, then you should ask if they would recommend their lawyer. Write down the name.
- You don’t need to commit to hiring someone solely because a friend or family member recommended them. Each person needs different things from their lawyer.For example, your sister might have loved her will attorney because the lawyer’s fees were low. However, you might value interpersonal communications skills more than price.
Ask another lawyer.You might have used a lawyer for a divorce or a real estate transaction. Ask him if he can recommend a lawyer to help you write a will.
- Lawyers are a good source of referrals, and you should trust their judgment. They know each other’s reputation and can steer you away from a bad lawyer and toward a good one. Also, the lawyer might have used a will attorney to help draft his own will.
- Reconnect with any lawyer you have used in the past and ask for a referral.
Use an online directory.Thirty years ago people would look in their phone book to find a lawyer. Now you can use one of several online directories.Websites such as Lawyers.com, Martindale Hubbell, and Nolo maintain directories of lawyers. You can search for lawyers in your city or state.
- These directories often include links to the lawyer’s websites. You can browse the websites to find someone with the necessary experience.
Research the lawyer.After compiling a list of referrals, you should go through and research each attorney. Most attorneys today have websites, which should contain helpful information. There are common things you can look for:
- Experience. Check to see whether the attorney specializes in wills or writes wills as part of a general practice. Each lawyer’s website should explain the attorney’s experience. Look for someone who has worked with wills before.
- Expertise. Look to see if the lawyer is a certified specialist. In some states, you can become a certified specialist in an area of law. If a will attorney specializes, it will probably be in “Estate Planning and Probate” or “Estates and Trusts.”To become a certified specialist, lawyers generally must commit a certain percentage of their practice to the field and take continuing education courses. Most states also require that the lawyer pass a written exam.
- Membership in lawyer organizations. There are several organizations for lawyers who write wills. One example is the American Association of Estate Planning Attorneys.Membership in an organization shows that the lawyer keeps up with the recent changes in the law.
- Contact information. Lawyer should provide phone numbers and an email address. If one or more is missing from the website, then the lawyer might not be someone you can reach easily.
- Overall presentation. Check to see that the website looks professional. Are there typos or grammatical errors? If so, you might want a lawyer who is a little more careful in presentation.
Check the lawyer’s disciplinary history.Before scheduling a consultation with a lawyer, you should check her disciplinary history. Each state has boards which investigate complaints against lawyers. If the complaint has merit, then the board will sanction the lawyer and make a notation about the sanction on the attorney’s record.
- You can check for sanctions by visiting your state’s attorney disciplinary board. To find the board, type “your state” and “attorney discipline” into a search engine. You should be able to search by the lawyer’s name.
Scheduling a Consultation
Call the lawyers.Most lawyers offer an initial consultation for prospective clients. These usually last between 15-30 minutes.You should call the lawyers and ask to schedule a consultation.
- Be sure to ask if there will be a fee. Some lawyers provide a free initial consultation. Often, if a lawyer charges a fee, then she will charge a reduced fee. Ask before scheduling the consultation.
Gather requested documents.You should get together whatever documents the lawyers say you should bring to the consultation. For example, the lawyer might request that you bring the following:
- a rough estimate of your assets
- any old will that you have
- copies of life insurance policies
- information about your children, including their ages
Prepare questions about the lawyer’s experience.If the lawyer has a general practice, then you can ask at the consultation how much of her practice has been devoted to writing wills.
- You should also ask if the lawyer has handled writing wills for clients like you. For example, if you have a large, complicated estate, then ask if the attorney has written a will for an estate like yours. Some lawyers might have written only simple wills for small estates.
- Ask if an heir has ever successfully challenged a will in court. If multiple wills have been challenged, then the lawyer might be sloppy when drafting them.
Ask about the scope of the lawyer’s services.A will attorney can provide many services in addition to simply drafting the will. You should find out exactly what you are paying for.
- Does the lawyer include in her fee a regular review of documents? For example, you might write a will in 2019 but then need to update it in 2019 because you had a child or because you sold a house. Ask if the lawyer regularly reviews your documents or if you need to pay each time.
- Can the lawyer help you make financial decisions? For example, you might want your lawyer to help you choose the right life insurance policy or plan for retirement. Some will attorneys can help with this kind of financial planning.
- Does the lawyer check that all assets are titled properly? In order to pass on property to beneficiaries, you need to make sure that it is titled properly. For example, you might think that you own a piece of property but your name was never put on the deed. A lawyer should be willing to go through your estate and make sure that everything is in order.
Check if the lawyer drafts living wills.At the same time that you get your will drafted, you might want a lawyer to help you prepare various “advance healthcare directives,” such as a living will or a medical power of attorney.You should check if the lawyer provides those services.
- In a living will, you outline what treatment you want and what treatment you don’t want if you ever become incapacitated and can’t speak for yourself.
- With a medical power of attorney, you appoint someone to make decisions for you should you become incapacitated. If you have a living will, then your power of attorney will make decisions about treatment where your living will is silent.
Ask about fees.You should also ask about pricing during the initial consultation. A will lawyer can calculate her fee in different ways. For example, she might offer a flat rate—a certain amount to write the will. Or, the lawyer could charge by the hour.
- Also check if the will attorney guarantees her work. This is not possible for all attorneys, especially those who bill by the hour. However, if the lawyer charges a flat-rate, then she might guarantee your satisfaction, otherwise she will refund the money.
Ask about communication styles.Lawyers differ widely in how they contact their clients and the frequency of their contacts. At the consultation, you should ask how the lawyer keeps clients in the loop.
- Which is the best way to contact the lawyer—by phone or email?
- How long does it take the lawyer to respond to your questions?
- Will the lawyer call, or will she have an assistant return calls?
Pay attention to how the staff treats you.A key element of the attorney-client relationship is comfort. You want to feel comfortable with the lawyer as well as with her staff. When you go to your consultation, pay attention to how receptionists, secretaries, paralegals, and other staff members treat you.
- Rude or dismissive staff could signal a problem with the lawyer. A lawyer who lets staff treat the public rudely might not closely oversee what happens in her office.
Picking an Attorney
Read online attorney reviews.Many websites such as Google and Avvo contain client reviews of lawyers, and you can certainly look at them as you try to choose an attorney. You should not trust any review 100%, especially if it is anonymous. Lawyers are limited in how they can respond to negative reviews without revealing client confidences.
- Nevertheless, you should check reviews to see if any concerns you have are mirrored in the reviews. For example, you might have found the lawyer somewhat intimidating to talk to. If you see reviewers mention this in their reviews, then you will have your suspicions confirmed.
Pick a lawyer.You should go through your notes on each consultation and analyze each lawyer individually. Try to find a lawyer who meets the following criteria:
- You feel comfortable with the lawyer. Since you will be discussing details of your life when drafting a will, you want a lawyer who you feel comfortable talking to. If the lawyer or her staff was rude, or if the lawyer admitted that she doesn’t communicate with clients frequently, then you might want to choose a different lawyer.
- The lawyer is sufficiently experienced. You want a lawyer who is qualified to draft a valid will for you. You should have a sense from the lawyer’s website and from your consultation about whether the lawyer is sufficiently skilled to meet your needs.
- The lawyer’s fee is reasonable. Some fees might simply be too high for you to afford. However, you shouldn’t necessarily go with the lawyer who is the cheapest. Instead, the cost should be one factor you consider along with comfort and experience.
Call the lawyer.Once you have selected a lawyer, call them and say that you’d like to be their client. The lawyer will let you know what you should do next.
- If you don’t feel comfortable with any of the attorneys you have met, then you should start over and get more referrals. Schedule additional consultations.
- You should also call or send an email to the lawyers you met with but have chosen not to hire. It is common courtesy to do so. You don’t need to give a reason or apologize. Simply thank them for meeting with you and state that you have decided to go with a different candidate.
Read your engagement letter.After you hire the lawyer, she should send you an engagement letter. This letter will explain all of the duties the lawyer will perform. It should also explain how the lawyer charges for her services.
- Read the letter and double check that the information contained in the letter matches what you were told during your consultation. For example, if the fee is different then you should call the lawyer and ask why.
- Make sure that you understand and agree to every provision in the engagement letter. If something needs to be revised, then wait for a clean copy of the engagement letter to arrive before signing it.
- Hold onto your copy of the signed engagement letter and refer to it if you need you.
- If you are low income but need a lawyer, you should check to see if there are any legal aid offices nearby. Legal aid provides free legal help to people in financial need. You can find a legal aid organization by visiting the Legal Services Corporation’s website at www.lsc.gov. Click “Find Legal Aid” at the top of the page and enter your address.
- Some states have special programs for elderly residents who are low income. In Maryland, for example, the state’s Sixty Plus Program matches residents with attorneys who provide low-cost legal help.
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