The attorney’s ad tells you that you can get a “comprehensive estate plan” for $800. Does that sound too good to be true? It may be. Before you rush in, here are some questions to ask. If you get positive answers to every question, then maybe you have a real bargain on your hands.
1. Will the attorney (not a secretary or paralegal) sit down with you for as long as it takes to get a thorough understanding of your goals, and to educate you about alternative approaches? Most attorneys start to charge by the hour after the documents are signed. Find out how the attorney will charge if you have questions after your estate plan is established.
2. Once you decide on a plan, what will be included? Your plan should probably include one or more trust agreements:
• a pour-over will (for each spouse, if you are planning as a couple)
• durable power(s) of attorney
• advance health-care directive(s)
• authorization(s) for your health providers to talk with your decision-makers and family members/loved ones
• documents to transfer your assets into your trust(s): This last point is crucial. Your estate won’t work unless title to each of your assets is reviewed and transferred as appropriate.
3. Is the attorney experienced in estate planning (not every attorney is good at every area of law), and does he or she have a good reputation? Visit www.martindale.com to find out how an attorney is regarded by his or her peers.
4. Will you meet with a paralegal or an attorney when it comes time to sign your documents? You have the right to legal counsel at that time, which only a licensed attorney can give you.
5. Are all costs included in the fee? Don’t be surprised by “add ons” for such things as recording fees, notary fees and photocopies.
6. Will your estate plan include provisions to address the possibility of someone being disabled or incapacitated? And, will the attorney’s law firm be there to help when someone dies or becomes incapacitated?
7. If you need to go to hospital locally or while traveling, will you have immediate access to your advance directive?
8. Does the attorney have a program to make sure that your estate plan will be kept current? If not, it will be deficient within a year or two and it may do you and your loved ones more harm than good. One thing you can be sure of is that things will change: the law, your assets, your health, and maybe even your decision makers.
9. Will working with this attorney give you the peace of mind of knowing you have done the best you can do by yourself and your loved ones? Too many estate plans fail because of the client’s lack of understanding, implementation (such as by making sure that assets that should be transferred into a revocable trust are actually transferred) and by lack of updating. There is no point in investing in an estate plan that you are not confident will work when the inevitable or unexpected happens, such as death, incapacity, divorce, or other events that will rob your loved ones of their inheritance.