We know it can be difficult to tell one lawyer from another and most people do not seek legal counsel unless they are in a state of emergency, such as a death, divorce, accident, work injury etc…
Finding clarity and peace of mind in these times of high stress can be difficult. Not only that, many people find their attorney through the Yellow Pages, pick the first lawyer that shows up in an internet search for ‘estate planning Pittsburgh’ or choose the attorney who has the flashiest commercial but it is important to remember that not all attorneys are created equal. In the legal world, big advertising dollars do not equal big experience. Asking the right questions is the best way to determine whether or not you’ve found the right person to help you protect your legacy.
Do you specialize in an area of law?
Some lawyers are upfront about their area of specialization but others advertise themselves as a ‘Jack of all trades.’ We don’t recommend making an appointment with a ‘Jack of all trades’ lawyer, but if you find yourself in front of one, ask them what kind of cases they most frequently handle. If you need an estate planning attorney, then you want a lawyer who specializes in elder law.
What percentage of your practice is made up of estate planning and elder law?
It may seem excessive to ask for this but remember, this is about protecting your family’s assets. Honest and trustworthy lawyers won’t mind giving you specific percentages. As always, the greater the percentage elder law cases a firm handles, the better the firm is for you.
How many years have you been practicing estate planning and elder law?
It’s not enough to know that a lawyer practices elder law, you need to know how long they have been practicing in that area. Previously, they may have primarily handled divorce cases and only recently made the switch to estate planning. It goes without saying that the more targeted experience an attorney has, the better.
What is the process for setting up an estate plan?
Any reputable attorney will be willing to freely discuss the process for setting up an estate plan with potential clients.
What is a revocable living trust?
Regardless of whether or not a revocable living trust is appropriate for your situation, your attorney needs to be able to explain trusts to you in a way you can understand.
Have you ever recommended a revocable living trust.
If they never have, then you know this is not the attorney for you. Some situations practically require the recommendation of a revocable living trust. You want to choose an attorney that is going to take your needs into consideration and not make decisions for your estate based on their personal preferences.
Do you always recommend a revocable living trust?
Again, you do not want an attorney that makes unilateral decisions about all estate planning situations. Trusts are not always appropriate and if you find yourself in front of the an attorney that always recommends one, then odds are they are not taking your specific needs into account.
Have you ever prepared or recommended an irrevocable trust, asset protection trust, protector trust or an intentionally defective grant trust?
Be sure to ask them why these trusts were or were not recommended. Ask for details of the situations. A competent elder law attorney can answer these questions and would have experience with most, if not all, of these trusts.
How many trusts have you prepared?
The details of a lawyer’s experience matter. A lawyer may not have any qualms about recommending a trust, but that does not mean he or she handles them frequently. Ask for specific numbers so you know you whether not you have found a law firm with the right experience for you.
What do you include with a trust package?
A power trust package should include a bill of sale, pour over will, power of attorney for finance and a power of attorney for health care, a living will, HIPAA waiver, assistance with funding of the trust and the filing of at least one deed. If a law firm does not offer all of these with a trust package, consider taking your business elsewhere.
What is probate?
As with revocable trusts, the attorney should be able to define probate to you in accessible terminology and not bog you down with legalese.
What do you charge to probate an estate?
If he or she cannot state a reasonable fee or scale, leave. A reasonable fee for probate in Pennsylvania is 3% to 7% of your gross estate.
How many wills have you set up?
Our Pittsburgh elder law firm handles hundreds a year. The more wills a law firm handles the more familiar with they are with the varying situations that can arise during the process.
What do you include with a will package?
A proper will package should include a power of attorney for finance, power of attorney for health care, living will and perhaps a HIPAA waiver. At our firm, we also include an estate organizer to help you organize for your assets.
Do you prepare Pennsylvania Inheritance tax returns?
This is a question you may not think to ask, but it is an important one to remember. Do not forget to ask with how many inheritance tax returns they have assisted.
Have you ever published any articles, guides or books for consumers or other attorneys on elder law?
The more published works a lawyer has authored, the more likely it is that they are knowledgeable, competent and up to date on the various nuances of elder law.
Do you regularly attend continuing legal education courses in estate planning?
The answer to this question is of the utmost importance. It isn’t enough to choose an attorney based on which law school they attended. You want to choose someone who maintains and updates their education through CLE (continuing legal education) courses.
Do you teach any continuing legal education courses?
Just like asking about the publications they have authored, knowing whether or not an attorney teaches any courses gives you an idea of how well they know the law. Plus, if they teach CLE courses, it is a strong indication that they have a good reputation and are well respected.
Have you ever been disciplined by the Pennsylvania state bar association?
Obviously, you want the answer to this to be “no.”
Remember that a reputable attorney will have no problem answering this questions. If a lawyer is hesitant to answer any of these questions, then reconsider having them handle your affairs.
At the Elder Law Offices of Shields and Boris, we are always willing to answer your estate planning questions. If you are in Pennsylvania, please contact us. We are always here to help you protect your legacy.