Discussing topics like death, incapacity, and other potentially frightening life events, with someone like me, an estate planning lawyer, may feel intimidating or even morbid. However, these emotions often mask the fact that hiring a lawyer to help you make wise decisions for life and death can be the most empowering choice you ever make for yourself and your loved ones. Estate planning isn't about planning for your death, it’s about planning for your life.
That planning requires the right lawyer to be there for your family when you can’t be. So, not only do you need to discover their services and how they run their firm, you need to understand who the lawyer is as a person, not just an attorney.
Here are five questions to ensure you don’t end up paying for legal services you don’t need, expect, or want. Once you know exactly what you should be looking for when choosing an estate planning lawyer, you’ll be much better positioned to hire an attorney that will provide the kind of love, attention, care, and trust your family deserves.
01 | How Do They Bill For Their Services?
Your first question to a lawyer may be, “how much does it cost?” But, that’s typically only because you aren’t clear on what else to ask. A better first question to ask is, “How do you bill for your services? And, how do you determine what to bill for your services?”
The right lawyer for you will have a clear answer that helps you understand how they determine how much to charge you, and, how you’ll be charged. They’ll set clear boundaries and expectations around fees and billing options so there are no surprises.
When working with an estate planning lawyer, find a lawyer who bills for all their services on a packaged flat fee basis to avoid billing surprises to clients. Hourly billed services should be avoided unless a court requires it for limited “court-related” services.
Your lawyer should determine the fees they charge you only after guiding you through a process of discovery in which they learn about your family dynamics and your assets and educate you about what would happen for your family and assets if and when something happens to you. Through that process, they will help you choose the right plan that meets your budget and desired outcomes.
At Sharek Law Office, all of our fees are a flat fee and agreed to in advance, where you choose your optimal package through our Life & Legacy Planning Session™ process. This is where we educate you about the law, and you educate us about your life and family legacy. Then, you choose the right plan, at the right price, for the people you love.
02 | How Will Your Lawyer Respond To Your Needs On An Ongoing Basis?
One of people's biggest complaints about working with lawyers is a lack of responsiveness. We’ve even heard of situations in which clients went weeks without getting a call back from their lawyer. It’s unfortunate, and yet it makes sense when a lawyer doesn’t have systems in place to ensure they can serve their existing clients and respond to the needs of past clients.
To ensure your lawyer can be responsive to your needs, ask them how quickly calls are typically returned in their office and if support staff will be on-hand to answer quick questions when and as needed. Ideally, all calls to your lawyer should be pre-scheduled with a clear agenda, so you both can be ready to focus on your specific needs.
03 | How Will Your Lawyer Proactively Communicate With You On An Ongoing Basis?
Sadly, too many lawyers fail to communicate regularly with their clients. As a result, if you’ve created an estate plan in the past, you may have had a 'do-this-because-I-have-to' kind of experience without realizing that estate planning means a lifetime of wise legal and financial decisions, not a one-and-done document filing service.
Unfortunately, most people are only aware of estate lawyers who do not have their firm's systems set up for on-going, proactive communication. These attorneys often do not have the time to actually get to know you and your family and keep your plan up to date throughout your life even after your documents are drafted and filed.
Choose a lawyer who works to keep your plan updated to ensure your family and assets are continuously protected and who will communicate with you regularly.
In planning for your estate, the set of documents is a requirement, but your estate plan is far more than those documents, it is an inventory of your assets which evolves throughout your life. It’s a structure and container for who and what your family will turn to when something happens to you.
Working with a lawyer with systems to keep your documents up to date ensures your assets are owned correctly throughout your entire lifetime and not just a moment in time. Ideally, your lawyer will learn to know you and your family beyond a name on a file, so, when the time comes, they will be there as a trusted comfort resource for the people you love.
04 | Can You Call About Any Legal Problem? Or Just About Matters Within Their Specialty?
Given the complexity of today’s legal world, lawyers must have specialized training in one or more specific practice areas, such as divorce, bankruptcy, Wills and Trusts, personal injury, business, criminal matters, or employment law.
You need your personal lawyer to have broad enough expertise to consult with them on a variety of legal and financial matters trust they will offer sound guidance and/or referrals to other trusted professionals who can help you.
In this capacity, you can consult your personal lawyer before you sign any legal documents, any time you have a legal or financial issue arise, or whenever anything that might adversely affect your family or business comes up, and know that you’ll receive excellent advice.
05 | What Happens When They Are Unavailable?
Life events big and small, illnesses, injuries, and death happen to us all, including your lawyer. Inquire as to what the plan is for your plan and for your family when they are unavailable for a short or long term basis.
This is a critically important—and often overlooked—question to ask your lawyer and any service professional before entering a business relationship. Though it may be uncomfortable to ask, but, a client-centered professional will have a back-up plan, an emergency plan, and/or a succession plan to ensure their clients are cared for no matter what happens to the lawyer managing your estate.
Look for a lawyer with a detailed plan that will ensure that someone warm and caring will take over your planning without any interruption of service.
A Lasting Relationship
Hiring the right estate planning lawyer is one of the most critical choices you can make for yourself and your family. This is the individual you trust to serve on your behalf to protect and to provide for your loved ones during one of life’s most emotionally challenging experiences that cannot be avoided.
Should you choose the wrong person for the job, your family could face unnecessary conflicts, expenses, and legal entanglements when they are most vulnerable. Ultimately, estate planning is far more than having a lawyer create a set of documents for you and then never seeing you again, or only seeing you when something goes wrong.
With Sharek Law Office as your Personal Family Lawyer®, our team develops a relationship with you and your family that lasts a lifetime. Our unique, individualized legal services are specifically tailored to provide our clients with the kind of love, attention, and trust we’d want for our own loved ones. To learn more about our one-of-a-kind packages and services, schedule your free 15-minute introductory call meeting today.
This article is a service of Sharek Law Office, LLC. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That's why we offer a Life and Legacy Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Life and Legacy Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge. Please note this is educational content only and is not intended to act as legal advice.