How Do I Choose an Attorney to Make My Will?

A will or a trust are essential components of your estate plan. A will can be used to appoint a guardian for minor children, create trusts for your minor or young adult children, transfer your personal effects, and distribute your estate. A trust can avoid probate and help manage your property if you become incapacitated. In order for your will to be effective, it needs to be executed in a very particular way. Trying to draft or change your own will or trust can lead to adverse legal effects (see our other blogs on DIY wills and trusts). Therefore, the first important step in the estate planning process is choosing the right attorney.

Many attorneys are willing to write a will or trust for you, but not very many attorneys actually have the requisite training, expertise, and experience for the task. Experienced and highly trained estate planning attorneys are knowledgeable about tax law, trust law, probate law, property law and business organizations, and can apply these skills to your specific situation. Lawyers do not learn about wills, trusts, probate and tax law in law school unless they specifically focus their education. If an attorney focuses his practice on other types of law, such as criminal law, divorce law, bankruptcy law, patent and trademark law, personal injury, or employment law, he or she probably will not have the focused training and experience of an attorney whose practice is concentrated on estate planning. Having a personal injury attorney write your will or trust is like having an orthopedic surgeon perform brain surgery on you. Would anyone really do that? Many people don’t realize just how specialized the law has become, just like medicine and other disciplines.

Questions to Ask
If your company’s attorney, or a friend or neighbor who is an attorney, offers to draft a will for you, ask them how much of their time is spent doing estate planning for clients and studying tax law. You should also ask them how many wills and trusts they have prepared in the last month. If they have only prepared one or two, or none, estate planning is not the focus of their practice. It is perfectly fine to say that you would like someone who is more specialized, and then ask for a referral.

When searching online for an estate planning attorney, look for someone who focuses their practice on estate planning and tax law. Membership in certain bar associations or estate planning organizations can indicate a level of dedication to the estate planning field and a commitment to keeping up to date on the law. Call a few different attorneys and ask them the same specific questions about their experience and qualifications before scheduling an appointment. You should also search online for any complaints that have been made against them. One client recently complained to me about his first estate planning attorney. While we were sitting there I “googled” the individual and found that he had two suspensions by our Bar Association against him. If the client had done that homework before he engaged his services, he could have avoided a lot of grief.

Also look at services where attorneys are rated by their peers. Martindale-Hubble is a peer review rating system. Lawyers are asked anonymously what they think of their peers so it’s a good system. Having an “AV” rating is the highest. Avvo is another online rating system that has become popular.

It is critical to use a competent estate planning attorney who is skilled in wills, trusts and tax law to advise you on your will and estate plan. Most importantly, it is important to choose an attorney you have confidence in and are comfortable with. The Astill Law Office has provided high quality legal services for over 30 years. We specialize in wills, trusts, estate planning, and asset protection. If you have any questions about creating a Trust, Will, or estate planning in general, contact The Astill Law Office at 801-438-8698.