After you have decided your family needs Wills and related estate planning legal instruments, the question becomes how to finding the right lawyer for your family.
You can start by asking friends and relatives for referrals to attorneys in your area or contact your local bar association’s lawyer referral service. Don’t just ask friends or family members for the contact information of an attorney, but also ask *why* that person liked working with that attorney. Ask what the process was like and whether it was a comfortable or painful process overall. You should feel comfortable both personally and professionally with the attorney you choose. You should never feel as if you are not important to or wasting the time of your attorney when you have questions.
Some additional factors to consider in hiring an estate-planning attorney for your family might include:
(1) whether this attorney makes house calls – can he or she come to your house at night or on the weekend when the kids are asleep or napping to meet with you and your spouse and again to finalize everything by executing (formalizing) the final legal instruments, or would you and your spouse have to find a time to meet with the attorney at his or her office during normal business hours? For that matter, try to get a sense of whether the attorney might be bothered by the sound of your infant crying or eating, your toddler playing loudly, or your preschooler whining while you’re trying to have a serious conversation. If post-kids’ bedtime phone calls or emails are easier for you, is that OK with the attorney?
(2) ask whether the attorney can help counsel you and your spouse through any potential sticking points, such as selecting guardians for any minor children you might have or excluding certain family members with whom you are estranged – an attorney who provides little to no guidance and/or offers no sympathy dealing with such emotionally charged matters may not be your best choice
(3) ask what legal instruments and documents he or she would suggest for a typical individual or family such as you or your own and how that compares to other attorneys in local practice. Listen especially for questions regarding a declaration of homestead, temporary emergency guardianship of minors, HIPPA releases, declarations of anatomical gifts, funeral directions, specific bequests of personal property, and questions regarding any life insurance policies, and the likely possibility of a family trust – many attorneys will do “quickie” Wills but leave all of these out, which could leave you and your family largely unprotected
(4) ask how the attorney charges for his or her legal services – e.g. flat fee or hourly rate or some combination of the two. What are those rates and how does that compare to other local attorneys? Will you be billed for every email and telephone call? Ask for an estimate of the number of hours of work involved and if the attorney’s rate is hourly, how it is billed (e.g. 10 or 15 min. increments, billed monthly – billed once at end of matter? Does this attorney take credit card payments? Would he or she be amenable to a payment plan over a couple months or must you pay one lump sum via check at the end?
(5) ask who holds onto the original/final Wills and other related instruments, where, and how? will the attorney contact you in a year, two years, three years to follow up and make sure that your estate plan still reflects your family’s situation and meets your needs?