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Donna Mae Scheib

Understanding the Role of an Estate Planning Attorney

Posted by Donna Mae Scheib on January 07, 2022

Understanding the Role of an Estate Planning Attorney

Most of us have heard time and time again: It is important to get your documents in order so your loved ones will know what to do upon your death. What will happen to your personal belongings? How about your debts?

But most of us procrastinate and avoid the issue.

This article addresses this topic – understanding the role of an estate planning attorney.

An estate planning attorney is someone who can help you with these documents. They primarily assist clients who are preparing for potential incapacity and impending death.

Let’s look more closely at what an estate planning attorney does, their qualifications for this work, the necessity of securing such an attorney including the cost of hiring, and suggestions in hiring.

Responsibilities of an Estate Planning Attorney

The estate planning attorney’s responsibilities vary as to what the individual client needs. The initial step would be for a client to meet with an attorney to discuss their individual situation and goals. At this time, the estate planning attorney can gather advice as to an estate plan.

The attorney then works on preparing the client’s preferred estate documents: healthcare directives, living wills, powers of attorney, the last will and testament, and/or trusts. They can also help with drafting the necessary documents to protect certain assets if the client is planning for long-term care in the event of incapacity or illness and if they have questions regarding Medicaid. They also stay in contact with the client after the documents are completed to modify any estate planning documents if life situations may change or if the client has subsequent questions or needs.  

What qualifications is an estate planning attorney expected to have?

The estate planning attorney is a bar-certified attorney. This means they have a basic legal background and a license to practice law in one or more states; they primarily deal with estate planning. In this role, they help the client by drafting legal documents and offering advice on estate planning.

In addition, they need to understand tax law, probate and estate law, and family law. The estate planning attorney works with the client on ways to reduce taxes and fees that will be imposed on the estate. They may work with other individuals who are connected to the estate as well. They may also work with other professionals who deal with the client’s life insurance and retirement plans so they must have some understanding in these areas, too.

The attorney may handle probate matters. A probate case is opened after an individual passes away. If the person doesn’t have a will, the next of kin can meet with the probate attorney. Or if there is an executor or personal representative named in the will, they can meet with the attorney. The attorney can help assist in filing the will and petition to open an estate.

The laws for probating an estate vary from state to state. They are dependent upon the existence of a will or not. If someone is listed in the will, they file an inventory with the court indicating the assets and debts of the deceased. The attorney then helps close the financial issues and makes sure all the claims are met including paying any taxes. If there is no will, an executor, personal representative, or next of kin can contact the attorney.      

Does everyone need an estate planning attorney?

Some people prepare their own living trusts and wills with the help of a number of online services. However, many of these online forms are quite basic and only cover a very simple estate (few assets and little debt). They don’t really cater to individual client needs. Another drawback of preparing documents online is that you may not fully understand the legal terminology and there may not be someone available to contact regarding any questions should you have any.   

However, if you only need to complete a simple estate affidavit, then you probably will be able to complete the documents online and without lawyer assistance. On the other hand, if the estate involves a lot of debt and/or assets or it is highly probable that there may be disputes with beneficiaries and creditors, then it is advised to hire a lawyer.

It is recommended that you contact a probate attorney for a short meeting to discuss your individual case to determine if you can fill out the documents and proceed alone or if it is better to secure the attorney’s assistance. Often, you can meet for a free consultation to determine your next step.

How is payment for the attorney handled?

Payment is usually made from the estate after the attorney’s work is completed, by the deceased bank account, or through other arrangements (if funds are not available through the estate or a bank account).

The price of the attorney’s work varies depending on several factors. Two such factors include the experience of the attorney and the complexity of the legal work involved. An estate planning attorney may charge an hourly fee or arrange for a flat fee. In general, a flat fee for completing a simple will range from $150-$600. Whereas, a flat fee for completing a trust may be more costly (up to $2,000). Often a flat fee arrangement for attorney consultation and work completed is the cheaper option as the hourly rate may be quite high.    

Suggestions in Hiring an Estate Planning Attorney

As mentioned earlier, it is important to ensure that the attorney specializes in estate planning. This way you will be more assured that they know the recent updates regarding preparing the estate properly. It is also important to know the education and experience level of the attorney to get the best attorney for your needs. You also want to feel comfortable working with the attorney. Usually, the first meeting can determine if you are a good match as far as personality and communication, etc. 

It might also be helpful to have referrals from other professionals and to do further internet research on the attorney ahead of meeting them face to face. Through professional referrals and ongoing research, you can find out the attorney’s background and if they have a disciplinary record. There may also be reviews from previous clients posted online that you can read to get a better picture of who might be the best attorney for you and your needs.  

In Summary

It is important to get your documents in order so your loved ones will know what to do upon your death.

An estate planning attorney can help you with this process. Their responsibilities and qualifications are important to know. Additional considerations include how to hire an attorney and determining the attorney fees. Realizing the importance of getting your documents in order and then actually doing so will give a clear direction to your loved ones. It will enable you to live your life with greater peace of mind. 

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