5 Questions to Ask When Hiring an Estate Planning Lawyer—Part 2

Since you’ll be discussing topics like death, incapacity, and other frightening life events, hiring an estate planning lawyer may feel intimidating or morbid. But it definitely doesn’t have to be that way.


Instead, it can be the most empowering decision you ever make for yourself and your loved ones. The key to transforming the experience of hiring a lawyer from one that you dread into one that empowers you is to educate yourself first. This is the person who is going to be there for your family when you can’t be, so you want to really understand who the lawyer is as a human, not just an attorney. Of course, you’ll also want to find out the kind of services the lawyer offers and how they run their business.


To gather this information and get a better feel for who the individual is at the human level, we suggest you ask the prospective lawyer five key questions. In part one, we listed the first two of these questions, and here, we cover the final three.


3. How will you proactively communicate with me on an ongoing basis?


The sad truth is most lawyers do a terrible job of staying in regular communication with their clients. Unfortunately, most lawyers don’t have their business systems set up for ongoing, proactive communication, and they don’t have the time to really get to know you or your family.


If you work with a lawyer who doesn’t have systems in place to keep your plan updated, ensure your assets are owned in the right way (throughout your life), and communicate with you regularly, your estate plan will be worth little more than one you could create for yourself online — and it’s likely to fail when your family needs it most.


Think of it this way: Yes, your estate plan is a set of documents. But more importantly, it’s who and what your family will turn to when something happens to you. You want to work with a lawyer who has systems in place to keep your documents up to date and to ensure your assets are owned in the right way throughout your lifetime. Ideally, the lawyer should get to know you and your family over time, so when something happens, your lawyer can be there for the people you love, and there will already be an underlying relationship and trust.

Your lawyer should proactively communicate with you and keep you and your family educated on an ongoing basis. We think sending out a regular email newsletter is best. I prefer to hear from the professionals with whom I work on a monthly basis by regular mail or by email, but depending on the relationship, it could be even more frequent than that.

If you are considering hiring a lawyer who doesn’t take the time to proactively communicate with his or her clients, this should be a red flag. That’s a sign that the lawyer may be stuck in an old, outdated mindset that won’t address your ongoing needs in the way you deserve.


4. Can I call about any legal problem I have, or just about matters within your specialty?


Given the complexity of today’s legal world, lawyers must have specialized training in one or more specific practice areas, such as divorce, bankruptcy, wills and trusts, personal injury, business, criminal matters, or employment law. You definitely do NOT want to work with a lawyer who professes to be an expert in whatever random legal issue walks through the door.


That said, you do want your personal lawyer to have broad enough expertise that you can consult with him or her about all sorts of different legal and financial issues that may come up in your life. Moreover, while your lawyer may not be able to advise you on all legal matters, he or she should at least be able to point you in the right direction.


Trust me, you wouldn’t want the lawyer who designed your estate plan to also handle your personal injury claim, settle a dispute with your landlord, and advise you on your divorce.


With this in mind, look for a lawyer who has an ongoing service program or membership program, in which you can pay a low monthly fee and be able to call with all of your legal and financial questions, without being charged hourly for the consultation. And be sure that when you call, you get to schedule time to talk with your own lawyer, who you know and trust. We love the idea of legal insurance plans, but we don’t love that you don’t get your own personal lawyer with them. You need to know your lawyer, and know that your lawyer has your back.


5. What happens if you die or retire?


This is a critically important — and often overlooked — question to ask not only your lawyer, but any service professional before beginning a relationship. Sure, it may be uncomfortable to ask, but a truly excellent, client-centered professional will have a plan in place to ensure their clients are taken care of no matter what happens to the individual lawyer managing your plan.


Look for a lawyer who has their own detailed plan in place that will ensure that someone warm and caring will take over your planning without any interruption of service. If your lawyer prepared a will, trust, and other estate planning documents for you, or if you are in the middle of a divorce or lawsuit, you want to make certain your lawyer has such a contingency plan in place, so you won’t be forced to start over from scratch should your lawyer die, retire, or become otherwise unavailable.


It's not a bad idea to hire a lawyer that isn't close to retirement age. This lawyer will ideally be there to care for your loved ones when you are no longer around.


Finally, if your lawyer offers a membership program, you’ll want to make sure he or she has a relationship with another lawyer or a network of lawyers who can continue to service you under that program.


A Lasting Relationship


Although hiring the right estate planning lawyer may not seem like a super important decision, it’s actually one of the most critical choices you can make for both yourself and your family. After all, this is the individual you are trusting to serve on your behalf to protect and provide for your loved ones in the event of life’s most traumatic experiences. Should you choose the wrong person for the job, your family could potentially face all manner of unnecessary conflicts, expenses, and legal entanglements during a time when they are at their most vulnerable. In the end, estate planning is about far more than having a lawyer create a set of documents for you, and then never seeing you again, or only seeing you when something goes wrong.


We develop a relationship with you and with your family that lasts not only for your lifetime, but for the lifetime of your children and their children, if that’s your wish. Our unique, family-centered legal services are specifically tailored to provide our clients with the kind of love, attention, and trust we’d want for our own loved ones.


To learn more about our one-of-a-kind systems and services, contact us.

This article is a service of the Law Office of Keoni Souza, LLC, an estate planning law firm in Honolulu, Hawaii. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That's why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by contacting our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.


DISCLAIMER: All information available at this website are for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. You should contact an attorney directly regarding your specific situation. Use of and access to this website or any of the email links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship between the Law Office of Keoni Souza, LLC and any users or any other party.

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All information available on this website is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. You should contact an attorney directly regarding your specific situation. The use of and access to this website or the transmission of information via email or through this website does not create an attorney-client relationship between the Law Office of Keoni Souza, LLC and any users or any other party. Transmission of information via email or through this website may not be secure, therefore confidentiality cannot be assumed.  By using this website or transmitting information via email or this website, the user agrees to this information being collected, stored, or transmitted to a third-party.

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