5 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Houston Estate Plan Lawyer
When you begin to consider getting your legal and financial affairs in order, the first thing to do is — call the offices of the estate planning lawyer in Houston who you will meet with to handle your estate plan. 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. Will you be able to speak with the attorney, or are you handled by some generic answering service?
When you do talk with someone on the phone be sure to ask what will happen at the initial consultation. 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 and your family. You want to leave this meeting with a clear action plan for what your next steps are, along with the lawyer’s recommendations for ensuring that your affairs will be set up in the best way possible for you and your family.
Second, you want to find out certain information, such as, how often should you review your legal documents, and what happens if you want to make changes later. Far too often, families put in place legal documents and they 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 Then, the end of their life comes, or a crisis pops up, and their family finds out that the documents are out of date, and certain updates would have greatly helped the family handle the then current situation.
Anyway, then, the estate plan that is out of date doesn’t perform properly. Why does this happen? Because some 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, estate planning documents, and trust business documents need to be reviewed regularly, and updated throughout your life. You want to find a lawyer who can offer you guidance for reviewing your documents regularly, and who offers a program to provide you with continuing guidance on an ongoing basis.
The third thing to know before hiring a lawyer is — can they help you make smart choices about things like buying insurance, financial and retirement plan and helping you get your financial house in order? Your personal lawyer can and should be able to guide you in making decisions, not only about things like legal documents, but also about general guidance on financial matters, taxes and getting your finances organized.
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 breadth of experience and knowledge, so that they can be a trusted advisor to you on these issues, helping you avoid expensive mistakes.
Fourth, what sorts of things can you put in place to ensure your kids are always taken care of by people you want, and in the manner you want, and won’t lose their inheritance to predators or creditors.
Today, there are 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 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.
Fifth, what set of legal estate planning documents best fit your current family situation. Some families have more complex planning issues to deal with than others. Several types of questions should be asked to help determine what planning documents best fit your needs:
- Will you need a trust created during your lifetime, or is that better dealt with in you will?
- Do you have any special needs family members that need to be provided for?
- How stable are the marriages of your married children?
- Are you expecting to add members to your family through birth or adoption?
- Are you expecting any large expenditures or inheritances?
Bonus: If you are preparing to meet with an estate planning lawyer in Houston, there are a few questions you might ask to determine if that prospective estate planning attorney is right for you –
QUESTIONS FOR YOUR ESTATE PLANNING LAWYER
Are you experienced in handling estate planning matters?
Proceed with an estate planning attorney only if he/she answer “yes” to this question. An estate planning attorney will be familiar with current law and will have the necessary strategic know-how to carefully draft your documents in the most effective way possible.
How long have you been practicing?
Obviously, you should strive to find the most experienced attorney possible, one who has seen his prepared documents take effect after a client’s death. There is no substitute for experience. It’s also important that you feel comfortable speaking with this attorney. After all, you will be discussing some of your most private and confidential issues.
Do you actually execute the plan?
Some lawyers merely draw up estate planning documents, while others also execute the associated trusts and property transfers. It’s generally more efficient to retain a lawyer in the latter category, who can ensure that the correct assets are transferred into the trust.
Can you help me create a comprehensive estate plan that includes wills, trusts, survivorship agreements and transfer on death documents?
You may have a choice of multiple types of wills, trusts, survivorship agreements and types of transfer on death documents, and comprehensive estate plans can include all of these. So it’s important that your estate planning attorney is knowledgeable in these areas. You might want your estate attorney to help you understand the advantages and disadvantages of each estate planning tool and suggest the ones that might be right for you.
How do you charge?
Many estate planning attorneys charge flat fees for certain standard services, like preparing a will or a trust, instead of billing by the hour. Some do both, where they charge a fixed fee for certain standard services, then charge an hourly rate for certain services that are unique to your situation. In any case, it’s makes sense to inquire about compensation methods ahead of time to avoid surprises.
How do you feel about revocable living trusts?
Putting assets into a revocable living trust can avoid the time consuming and costly probate process. But this may not be the best move for everyone, particularly in Texas, because here the probate process is relatively simple. Unfortunately, some lawyers recommend revocable living trusts simply so they can charge more money. There may be other, simpler and more cost effective methods to meet your goals.
What other issues do you address?
As life expectancy increases, so do the probabilities of physical and mental disability issues. Estate planning attorneys should help clients prepare for the possibility of temporary or permanent disability or dementia by drafting medical and durable powers of attorney, living wills, and declaration of guardianship documents.
This is just a sample of the types of questions that should help guide the decision on what documents best fit your needs. Asking these questions and hearing the right answers before you engage a lawyer to work on your wills, trusts, estate planning or business will ensure that you put in place legal planning for your family and your business that will work when you need it.
Nick C. Caridas, Estate Planning Lawyer – Houston