Choosing an Estate Planning Attorney A values-based, client-centered attorney will help your clients succeed.
A Client-Centered Relationship
The right kind of attorney will be focused on a long-term (even multi-generational) relationship with the client and his family. The attorney will not have a transactional approach to the estate plan, but rather a process approach. The estate plan is never really done until the client has passed away and every instruction for every beneficiary of every subsequent generation has been carried out. Those who speak of the plan or the client in the past tense may have a shortsighted perspective.
The client-centered attorney wants to ensure that everything possible is done to make sure that the plan is carried to fruition and that the client's expectations are met.
There is nothing as constant as change. The client's personal, family and financial situations change all the time. Kids get married and have children; there are divorces and remarriages; and the market goes up or down.
In addition, laws (both tax and nontax) change constantly. We have an estate tax. Then we're told the estate tax isn't so bad. The estate tax is abolished. Oops, the estate tax is back. Assets in retirement accounts and trusts are protected from creditors and predators. Some protected assets may not be protected in certain circumstances.
The other thing that should be constantly changing is the growth and education of the attorney and every advisor working with that client. New planning strategies should be developed, new tools should be discovered, and there should be a better way to say something.
The right estate-planning attorney has systems in place to ensure he stays in touch with the client, that the planning team knows of changes, and that there are methods to adjust the plan in light of those changes.
mutual respect and clear protocols characterize the interdisciplinary team that is working well together.
The attorney will also be aware that for a plan to work well, the people who will help in the future need to know what's going on. If the children will someday serve as trustees and personal representatives, the attorney might tell those children what to do. If ongoing trusts have been established to protect those children and grandchildren, the other advisors should be in a position to continue serving as advisors to the subsequent generations instead of losing those accounts. The client-centered interdisciplinary approach can make that happen.
The right attorney does exist, and is looking for the right financial advisor, insurance professional and CPA to work with. If you share the values and practices outlined, you should look for an attorney with beliefs similar to yours. You might also check with regional and national organizations of attorneys who specialize in this area of the law, visit their events and spend some time getting to know their members.
As every member of the planning team focuses on the needs of the client, the process will run more smoothly, the client will be more comfortable and the practices of all the professionals involved will prosper.