ESTATE PLANNING ATTORNEY: Definition & All You Need To Know

How to Find an Estate Planning Attorney
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Estate planning attorneys are beneficial both during the estate planning process and later in the probate court process. They are familiar with the state and federal laws that apply to your estate.

Estate planning attorneys typically charge a flat fee to help you draft legally binding documents like wills and durable powers of attorney. 

However, they can also work hourly to help you maintain your estate, act on your behalf to resolve disputes when needed, and ensure that your will is carried out according to your wishes when necessary.

An estate planning attorney can also help someone with power of attorney over a recently deceased person’s estate navigate the probate court process. 

In fact, a qualified estate planning attorney may ‌assist you to avoid probate court entirely, but this highly depends on the type of assets in the deceased’s estate and how they can transfer it properly.

When looking for an estate attorney, the internet can be helpful, and this article is the right resource. We covered all you need to know about an estate planning attorney, their role, and how to get one.

Keep reading.

Key Takeaways

  • Wills, trusts, and power of attorney forms are among the estate planning attorney’s services.
  • Someone with a simple estate may not require the services of an estate attorney.
  • For a simple will, an estate attorney may charge a few hundred dollars, but documentation for more complicated cases might cost thousands of dollars.
  • Look for an estate attorney that specializes in what you require, charges reasonable costs, and whom you believe you will get along with.

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Who is an Estate Planning Attorney? Definition

Estate planning attorneys, also known as estate law attorneys or probate attorneys, are skilled and licensed attorneys who have a full understanding of the state and federal rules that govern how your estate is inventoried, evaluated, distributed, and taxed after your death. 

They specialize in helping you with the following responsibilities, besides teaching you about the probate process:

  • Developing a Will
  • Making a list of your beneficiaries
  • Creating a durable power of attorney for financial matters and medical durable power of attorney for medical matters
  • When possible, reduce and avoid estate taxes.
  • figuring out how to get out of the probate court process
  • Creating any trusts you may need to protect your assets, both for your own advantage during your lifetime and for the benefit of your beneficiaries after your death.

If a beneficiary (or even someone who isn’t a beneficiary) declares that he or she intends to contest the will and sue the estate of a deceased family member or loved one from whom you also stand to benefit, it might be in your best interests to speak with an estate planning attorney right away. Such disputes can quickly deplete an estate’s assets, leaving all beneficiaries worse for wear.

An estate plan allows you to plan for what will happen after you die or if you cannot care for yourself and your property. They can provide legal advice on wills, trusts, and the local probate process, and some estate attorneys specialize in areas such as business succession planning.

Although not everyone will require the services of an estate planning attorney, most people will benefit from working with one. You can, for example, create a will without the help of an attorney.

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What Is The Role Of An Estate Planning Attorney?

An estate planning attorney is knowledgeable in transferring your possessions after you pass away. Estate attorneys can assist you in drafting documentation and creating a plan to ensure that they distribute your assets to your chosen beneficiaries with no court fights or large tax costs.

An estate attorney can assist you in arranging for scenarios where you are disabled and unable to care for yourself or your assets, besides planning for your death. Some attorneys specialize in elder law, which is focused on the needs of senior individuals.

Here are some topics that an estate planning attorney can assist you with:

  • Prepare a final will and testament that will be more difficult to contest when you pass away.
  • Assist you in creating a testamentary or living trust.
  • Transfer assets to your trust and manage the administration of the trust.
  • Make guardianship arrangements for your children.
  • Tax planning and wealth transfer help
  • Make a charitable giving strategy.
  • Prepare for the unexpected, such as the death of your beneficiary.
  • Make a living will that outlines your end-of-life choices.

A durable power of attorney for financial or health-care choices might be given to someone.

We will answer any queries you have about estate planning and local legislation.

If you’re not sure where, to begin with, your estate plan, use our estate planning checklist as a starting point.

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How Much Does It Cost To Hire An Estate Planning Attorney?

Working with an attorney costs vary based on where you reside, the services you receive, the complexity of your case, and the attorney’s fee structure. Many estate attorneys provide a free initial consultation during which you can discuss the essentials of what you want and how much you’re ready to pay.

Compared to more rural areas, estate planning attorneys often charge more in cities. The price of various services varies as well. A basic will, for example, may cost a few hundred dollars, although establishing a trust is likely to cost more.

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Situations In Which You Should Keep The Services Of An Estate Attorney

Although most people would benefit from dealing with an estate planning attorney, in many cases it is not essential (and you may not want to pay for it). On the other hand, persons in particular situations may need the advice of a professional to ensure their estate plans are thorough and clearly convey their goals.

Here are some common scenarios in which you should hire an estate attorney rather than doing things on your own:

  • You’re a small business owner or a business partner looking for help with succession planning.
  • You own or have assets in another state. When assets cross state lines, passing them on can be complicated, since two jurisdictions may have separate tax rules or other legal requirements for how to transfer an item.
  • You own or have assets in another country.
  • You intend to leave assets to someone who isn’t a U.S. citizen. If you want to name an executor who isn’t a legal U.S. resident, you can run into problems. Nonresidents may not complete certain tasks, such as obtaining a tax ID in order to open an estate account.
  • You want to leave a lasting impression. An estate attorney can help you set up a charitable trust for your donations, which can also give you tax relief.
  • You wish to leave your immediate family out of your will. In some locations, such as community property states, where you and your spouse share ownership of your assets, this may be more difficult.

Other ways can be:

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You have a blended family

If you have a mixed family, you may wish to leave assets to a stepchild, stepparent, or half-sibling. 

These individuals most likely won’t receive any of your assets unless you take intentional actions in your estate plan to ensure they do. 

Learn more about estate planning for blended families.

You have immediate family members with special needs

You have members of your immediate family who have special needs or who require government assistance, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Medicaid. 

If you care for someone with special needs, an estate attorney can assist you with naming a guardian and putting together a comprehensive plan that includes a special needs trust.

You wish to keep your assets out of the hands of Medicaid

If you receive Medicaid long-term care or other services, the Medicaid Recovery program may seek payments after you die by claiming a portion of your estate, such as your home. 

A good estate plan will safeguard your assets and allow you to leave as much of your estate as possible to your heirs.

You need to set up an irrevocable trust

You need to create an irrevocable trust if you’re concerned about estate taxes or want to shield your assets from creditors and lawsuits. 

Because an irrevocable trust can’t be amended or closed once it’s been established, it’s best to consult with an estate attorney first to see if it’s the right option for you.

If all you want is to pass things on without having to go through probate, a revocable trust is generally all you need, and you can set one up without the help of an estate planning professional.

How to Find an Estate Planning Attorney

Finding an estate attorney may appear to be a difficult endeavor, but breaking it down into smaller parts might assist you.

1. Make a list of potential attorneys.

Here are some places to find an estate planning attorney:

  • Friends and family recommendations
  • Financial experts or accountants can refer you.
  • Probate courts in your area
  • Bar associations at the local, county, and state levels

Make sure you use an attorney who specializes in estate planning. That may seem self-evident, but if you engage with someone who specializes in another field, even if they also work with estates, your estate plan may not be up to par.

To practice law in your location, all attorneys must pass the bar exam, and the state bar association will have a list of its members. Check out the websites of your local, county, and state bar associations to get started.

What about commercials for estate attorneys on television and radio?

Local and state rules govern who can lawfully claim to be an attorney, so you can trust that the persons you see in print, radio, or television ads are actually attorneys or members of law practice. 

However, you should examine their web reviews to ensure that they are estate planning professionals.

2. Speak with each of the estate attorneys on your list.

It may seem tedious, but because estate planning is a personal process, it’s critical to speak with all of your ‌attorneys. 

You will disclose confidential information about your finances and funeral arrangements. It will be much easier if you have a good attorney-client connection.

3. Check their fees and make your pick

Recheck all the fees of the remaining estate attorneys on your list to see who you can properly afford. Make sure you’re aware of everything you’ll be charged for.

Try to speak with persons who have worked with the attorney in the past, such as their clients or another attorney. Attorneys who are difficult to work with or who treat their clients badly will soon gain a negative reputation among their peers.

Have a follow-up conversation with your potential estate counsel if necessary. You should not feel as though you are putting them out; this is their job, and you will deal with them frequently for at least a short time. 

How they handle follow-up calls might also give you an indication of how they will work with you if you become a client.

Questions for Your Potential Estate-Planning Attorney

The following questions will assist you in learning more about estate planning and determining whether a potential estate-planning attorney is a good fit for you.

Is estate planning your primary focus?

Only interview a candidate if they say “yes” to this question. An estate professional will be up to date on all legal changes and will have the strategic know-how to properly draft your documents in the most effective manner workable.

Have you been practicing for a long time?

Obviously, ‌look for the most experienced attorney you can find—one who has seen drafted documents go into effect after a client has passed away. 

Such attorneys will have dealt with court challenges or the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and would know how to overcome any obstacles.

Do you follow through on your plans?

Some attorneys only draft estate planning documents, while others also carry out the trusts that go with them. 

Keeping an attorney in the latter group, who can ensure that they put the correct assets into the trust, is often more efficient.

Do you review your work regularly?

Some estate-planning professionals will evaluate your affairs semi-annually or annually for a nominal fee. 

This can be significant, as revisions to your plan may be necessary if you encounter a life change or a change in your finances. New legislation modifications may also affect aspects of your estate planning.

How long have you been dealing with estate taxes? How can I best manage estate taxes?

For example, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 extended the exemptions from the inheritance tax and generation-skipping taxes until 2025.

Is it possible for you to assist me in putting together a comprehensive estate plan that includes wills, trusts, and life insurance?

You may have a variety of wills, trusts, and life insurance policies, and comprehensive estate plans can incorporate them all. As a result, it’s critical that your estate attorney is well-versed in these areas. 

Your estate attorney can assist you in understanding the complexities of each estate-planning tool and determining which ones are best for you.

What method do you used to charge?

Instead of invoicing by the hour, many estate planning attorneys charge flat rates. Some offer a predetermined fee for common services, such as establishing trust, and then charge an hourly fee for special research work. 

To avoid unpleasant surprises, it’s a good idea to inquire about compensation models ahead of time.

What are your thoughts on a revocable living trust?

Putting assets into a revocable living trust can circumvent the costly and onerous probate process (filing a will with the court) (filing a will with the court). 

However, because revocable living trusts do not eliminate inheritance, estate, or income taxes, this may not be the best option for everyone. 

Unfortunately, some attorneys advocate these structures merely so they may charge more money.

What other concerns do you have?

The likelihood of long-term physical and mental health difficulties rises as life expectancy rises. 

By drafting powers of attorney, healthcare directives, and living wills, estate attorneys can assist clients in financially preparing for the likelihood of disability or dementia.

How long do you think it will take you to finish my estate planning project?

While there is usually no need to rush, keep in mind that you may want to consult with other specialists, such as accountants, retirement planners, or money managers, about components of your estate plan. 

While an estate attorney’s knowledge may intersect with these subjects, they are not always tax or investment experts. 

Allow enough time to develop a broader, big-picture perspective on your estate plan and the administrative details of putting it in place.

Will you email me estate-planning paperwork to review?

Even if you’re dealing with an experienced estate planning attorney, double-check all documents and forms to avoid misunderstandings. 

Distinguish between what they can change later and what is irreversible.

Will someone else in your office be able to handle my concerns while you’re away?

While most estate-planning attorneys attempt to be available to their clients at all times, it’s vital to know that if your attorney is unavailable, an associate or paralegal will be ready to answer your questions.

Some Thoughts for You

Here are some self-examination questions to consider:

  • How at ease do you feel when talking with an estate planning attorney?
  • Does your advisor communicate properly and clearly?
  • Do you share their values‌? How do you feel about their bedside manner?
  • Can you imagine discussing highly sensitive topics with this person?
  • Do you have a good working relationship?

If you’re unsure whether a specific estate-planning attorney is suited for you, go with your gut. Because estate preparation can be difficult, both emotionally and legally, it’s critical to choose an attorney who can manage all the details.

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