When you begin to consider getting your legal and financial affairs in order, the first thing to do is call the offices of lawyers who you will meet with to handle your planning.
This is a great opportunity for a first level screening to find the right lawyer for you. Pay attention to how the phones are answered (or not) by the office team.
When you do talk with someone on the phone, be sure to ask what will happen at the initial meeting and whether there will be a charge for the meeting.
Look for an educational first meeting. Ideally, the purpose of the first meeting with your lawyer is not just to get to know him or her, but to provide you with some guidance and information that will benefit you & your family.
You want to leave this meeting with a clear action plan for what your next steps are to ensure your affairs are set up the best possible way for your family.
Does my planning fee include a regular review of my legal documents? What if I want to make changes later?
Far too often, families put in place legal documents and think "great, that's done", now I don't have to think about that anymore. Then, the end of their life comes or a crisis pops up and their family finds out that the documents are out of date and the assets aren't owned properly anyway. Then, the plan fails.
Why does this happen? Because their lawyers are not setting the right expectations for their clients.
The truth of the matter is legal documents are not set it and forget it. Your wills and trusts and your business documents are living documents that need to be reviewed and updated throughout your life. And you want to find a lawyer who will keep everything up to date for you, review your documents regularly, and offer a program to provide you with continuing guidance on an ongoing basis without hourly fees.
Can you help me make smart choices about things like buying insurance, saving for college, and retirement planning?
Your personal lawyer can and should help you make decisions not only about things like legal documents, but also about things like buying insurance, saving for college, planning for retirement and all the other challenging decisions that will come up along the way of your life and your business.
This doesn't mean your lawyer needs to be licensed to sell insurance or financial products or practice every kind of law, just that they have a big enough breadth of experience and knowledge that they can be a trusted advisor to you on these issues helping you avoid expensive mistakes.
What sorts of things can you put in place to ensure my kids are always taken care of by people I want in the way I want and won't lose their inheritance to predators or creditors?
Today, there are new strategies in legal planning that allow you to have the maximum assurance that your children will never be left in the care of anyone you wouldn't want, even in the short term while the authorities are figuring out what to do. Be sure that your lawyer provides a comprehensive Kids Protection Plan(R) for the care of minor children, including ID cards for your wallet and instructions for your caregivers, listing out the names and numbers of local people who have legal authority to care for your kids, if you can't.
Do you guarantee your service?
Have you ever met a lawyer who guaranteed their service? If not, you are missing out. Many lawyers will guarantee your satisfaction, so be sure to ask. If you aren't happy with the service, they'll refund your money. As long as they have a client-focused, service-based business and intend to do whatever is necessary to keep you happy, the lawyer won't worry about offering a guarantee. Look for one who does.
Asking these questions and hearing the right answers before you engage a lawyer to work on your wills, trusts, estate or business will ensure you put in place legal planning for your family and your business that will work when you need it.