Estate planning is a topic that usually includes legal, financial, and accounting advice and is something that good financial planners delve into with clients at some point in the relationship. An estate plan is a crucial element in a financial plan. Sometimes estate planning is fairly simple and can be handled with a simple will or trust or both. Other times the process can be far more intensive and requires navigating the complexity of state and federal laws, tax rules, and investment strategies while developing a plan that achieves whatever your heart’s desire is.
A good financial planner can handle many estate plans. But when an estate is complicated (read: large) and includes things like businesses, farms, land or other real-estate the services of an attorney are necessary. A good estate attorney will be proficient in wills and living wills, trusts (living trusts, charitable trusts, special needs trusts), estate tax, gift tax, and income tax planning, powers of attorney, guardianship, medicaid and medicare rules, and business succession planning. A good estate attorney will have a thorough understanding of the probate process and a good relationship with the local courts too.
So how do you find this estate attorney?
- If you have a financial planner, then I suggest you ask him or her first. They may have a relationship with an estate attorney that they trust. Financial planners are a great resource for connecting you with other specialized professions like accountants, tax preparers, and attorneys.
- If you know an attorney pretty well you can ask them if they know any attorneys to refer you to that specialize in estate planning. Usually lawyers are good about referring to other attorneys that aren’t practicing in their same specialty.
- Ask friends and family who they have used. You’ll quickly hear first hand accounts good and bad about the local help available.
- Google it. Simply search for “estate attorney near me” and see what comes up. Check websites that show the attorney specializes in estates and see if there are any reviews.
- Check for certifications. There are a few relevant certifications estate attorneys could have such as Chartered Trust and Estate Planner (CTEP) and Accredited Estate Planner (AEP), but these are no guarantee of the quality of the attorney. In my experience most of the professional designations that are available in finance are simply alphabet soup that’s paid for annually as a marketing tool. But, if they check a few of the more important boxes then these designations could be the cherry on top.