Littlejohn Column: How to Choose the Right Estate Planning Lawyer

Brian Littlejohn

Choosing the right estate planning attorney can be important for many reasons. However, knowing who to choose is not always easy. The best estate planning attorney in your area may not be the best 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 technically competent?

First, the right estate planning attorney for you must be technically competent. In fact, 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 must keep up-to-date by becoming familiar with existing and expected legislative changes. And they need to know how all of these things apply to their unique situation and location, as inheritance and estate laws from state to state can vary significantly.

When evaluating the technical skills of an estate planning attorney, consider the following:

Specialty — What percentage of your work is related to trusts and estate planning?

Jurisdiction — What jurisdictions and physical locations do your expertise cover?

Differentiation — What sets you apart from your competitors?

Risk management — How do you manage and communicate the potential risks you face?

Operations and accountability — How do you ensure that appropriate steps are taken to complete the estate plan and what is your 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 if 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 like you when it comes to attributes like net worth, types of assets and income, family dynamics, and legacy goals. Ask potential attorneys what their typical client profile looks like. For example:

  • Do you work with business owners?
  • Are your typical customers part of traditional or blended families?
  • What is the average net worth of your clientele?

If you 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 for planning for a six-figure net worth are not the same as those 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 should feel like a fit.

Consider your personality: does it match you and your family? Remember that your attorney will work closely with your immediate family to communicate and implement your estate plan. So find someone who can be a good fit, so you can develop a healthy working relationship.

Also, consider your prospective attorney’s values, inherited views, wisdom, and personal experiences. In fact, many attorneys will go to great lengths to understand and implement your unique wishes. However, some may have conflicting views, thus creating some unnecessary challenges.

You can start by identifying your own thoughts on legacy, stewardship, and multi-generational wealth, and then find a like-minded attorney. 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 clients with personalized comprehensive financial planning and investment management services to help them organize, grow and protect their assets.

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