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How to hire an estate planning lawyer

Estate planning attorneys can help you prepare and manage important estate documents, set up a trust, or contest or defend a deceased person's last will. Some estate planning attorneys have a particular area of focus within estate planning law, like wills, probate, or trust management. Learn how to find an estate planning attorney that fits your needs.

Wills

Some lawyers might focus specifically on wills, whether the wills are last wills or living wills. A last will goes into effect after a person's death. A living will outlines medical wishes in advance should people face a situation where they are unable to make important decisions.

Probate

All last wills must go through probate. The will's executor, the person appointed to carry out the wishes outlined in the will, has to submit documents to a court that prove the will's validity. Such documents could include the will itself and appraisals of any major pieces of property.

A probate lawyer may be particularly valuable if the will is not an official legal document. For example, if a will is handwritten or recorded on video, a probate lawyer can help you understand and comply with the laws related to these types of wills.

Trusts

Unlike wills, trusts do not have to face probate. A trust is a distribution arrangement for certain assets. Trusts may go into effect while the owner of the property is still alive, or these trusts may be part of a will. Several different types of trusts exist, and each comes with its own rules.

Paying an estate planning attorney

Will and estate lawyers individually decide how and how much they charge their clients.

  • Hourly fee. Many lawyers charge by the hour. The rate may be as low as $150, but some lawyers charge much more than that amount, based on experience. Attorneys who charge an hourly fee may also require that you initially pay a retainer. This is an initial deposit that the covers the attorney's hourly fees and any other costs associated with your case.

  • Flat fee. This fee is charged one time for a specific service, like reviewing a document.

  • Contingency fee. If a large amount of money is at stake in a case, you agree to award the lawyer a portion of that money if you win your case.

Initial questions to ask an estate planning lawyer

Once you've narrowed down your list of potential will and estate lawyers to a few names, interview several lawyers to find the one that best fits your needs. These questions can help guide your conversation:

  • How will you charge me, and what services does the fee include?

  • Have you handled cases that are similar to mine? Based on your experience, how would you suggest approaching my case?

  • How will you make sure that all my assets are properly titled?

  • How do you handle access to legal documents? What if I want to make changes to my will or estate plans?

Based on your specific situation, you may want to ask other questions as well. For example, if you are planning for your own estate, you may ask if the lawyer has a plan to help you pass on intangible assets, such as your spiritual heritage and other elements that are important to you.

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