September 21


Do I Need An Estate Planning Attorney?

By Mac McLean

September 21, 2020

Let’s face it:

  • We’re going to die,
  • We’re going to leave some stuff behind when we die, and
  • The people we leave behind might want that stuff.

This brings up the question do I need an estate planning attorney?

Luckily, any of the country’s 204,000+ estate planning attorneys and law firms will be happy to help you sort out who gets what. Of course, you’re probably now wondering: “How do I find an estate planning attorney who’s right for me?”

The answer to this question involves three steps:

  1. Understanding what you need, 
  2. Building a list of potential candidates, and 
  3. Calling those candidates until you’ve found the right fit.

You can get a head start on this process by attending one of our free online estate planning workshops. Here, you’ll learn the basics of estate planning and meet a qualified estate planning attorney in your area without leaving the comforts and safety of home (Click here to find one in your area.)

Understand what you need:

The average estate planning attorney charges $250 to $310 per hour for their services. Knowing the answers to these three simple questions is the best way you can keep these costs down.

  1. How big is my estate? – Do you own a house or many houses? Do you have jewelry to appraise or a vehicle to donate to charity? Also, is there any intangible personal property – stocks, bonds, recipes, patents, book ideas, etc. – you’d like to pass down?
  2. Who are my heirs? – Put together a list of the people you are close to and find out if they want anything you have. These conversations could save you from wasting billable hours with your attorney trying to decide who gets the set of china your whole family secretly hates. Don’t forget to see if your favorite charities have rules for accepting donations so you don’t leave them furniture they can’t take.
  3. Do I need more than just a will? – An estate planning attorney can also set up an advanced directive to dictate our final wishes and a power of attorney who makes decisions and pays bills on your behalf. Take a minute to discuss these issues with your family members when you talk about your estate. This step guarantees everyone will be ready should difficult times await.

Finally, ask yourself, “do I need to hire an attorney for estate planning?” Using a do-it-yourself tool like LegalZoom is one option if you have a simple estate, a few heirs, and feel comfortable writing a legal document. 

Build a list and pare it down:

Every state bar or bar association maintains an online directory where they list information about the people who are licensed to practice law in your state (Click here to find your state bar’s directory.) These databases also feature personal statements from the attorneys about how long they’ve practiced law and which fields are their specialty. Use this database to build a long list of potential attorneys and start paring it down.

First, use your state bar’s website to determine whether it cited any of the attorneys on your list for misconduct. This step is the best way to avoid hiring someone with a history of misappropriating client funds to manage your multi-million dollar estate.You can also use customer review websites like Avvo, Justia, or to pick an attorney the same way you’d pick a date night restraint or a stylist to cut your hair. But your closest friends will be your best source of information. They have also thought about what happens to their stuff when they die and may know a good estate attorney who could help.

Make some phone calls:

Now that you’ve pared down your list of potential estate planning attorneys, it’s time to start making phone calls to see who best fits for your needs. Most attorneys offer free phone consultations where you can tell them about your situation and find out:

  • How much do they charge, and do they bill with an hourly rate or a flat fee?
  • What services are covered by the flat fee, and how much do any extras cost?
  • How hard is it to update your estate planning documents, and how often should this be done?
  • Are these updates something you can do by yourself, or do you need to meet with the estate planning attorney in person, and how much does that cost?
  • How many other clients do they have, and how quickly can they return your phone calls in a timely fashion?  
  • Do they have any partners or associates who can help, and what happens if you die while your estate planning attorney is at the beach?

Don’t be afraid to ask about any negative reviews or disciplinary actions you found while paring down your list of potential estate planning attorneys. Everyone makes mistakes and how people react when asked about their misstates is an excellent measure of their character and professionalism.

Finally, pay attention to the softer details you notice when interacting with your potential estate attorney on the phone. How is his or her tone of voice, do you connect or share a favorite sports team, and do they have any mannerisms you find stressful or annoying?

The estate planning attorney you choose will be one of the first people your loved ones interact with while grieving your loss. You want to make sure everything about this encounter goes well.

Next Steps: Making an estate plan can be overwhelming. We recommend attending one of our educational events. This tool will find one in your area.

Here's how it works:

 • Answer these few easy questions about your current situation.
 • Sit back while our tool searches for educational events in your area. It only takes a minute.
 • Select a date and time that works for you and register to reserve your seat. At the event you will be able to get all of your questions answered by a local estate planning expert.

Enter your zip code to get started:

Mac McLean

About the author

Based out of Bend, Oregon, Mac McLean is a freelance writer who covers older adults and the issues affecting their daily lives. He currently writes for this website, the AARP Bulletin, and Waste Alert. He and his wife are riding out the pandemic with their 12-year-old English Springer Spaniel mix in a 200-square-foot guest house on a 2.2-acre farm surrounded by chickens, cows, pigs, and a donkey that simply will not shut up.

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