What is The Lawyer's Role?
It is easy to be lured by advertisements claiming you can save time and money by drafting your own will using do-it-yourself websites or software or fill-in-the-blank will kits. It is unlikely that these alternatives will generate a suitable will that accomplishes all of your objectives. Only a qualified trusts and estates lawyer can interpret the myriad laws bearing on property rights, taxes, wills, probate, and trusts. More important, canned programs and forms cannot provide the wide range of legal advice to assure that the form is correct, that assets passing outside of your will or trust are properly handled, that state law nuances are taken into account, or that relevant tax, legal and personal issues are properly addressed.
On the other hand, you can save time and money by preparing for a meeting with your estate planning lawyer. You can organize your information regarding your assets, liabilities, and title arrangements and think about your feelings regarding providing for various family members. You should take with you copies of important documents such as previous wills or trusts, powers of attorney, life insurance policies, employment benefits, and prenuptial agreements and divorce decrees.
Not every state requires or allows attorneys to designate a specialty area of practice, so you should inquire about the level of experience and qualifications in estate planning when selecting an attorney. Membership in certain bar associations or estate planning organizations often indicates a level of dedication to the estate planning field and a commitment to keeping abreast of the law. Most important, you should choose an attorney in whom you have confidence, either through recommendations from friends or your other professional advisors.
Be sure to ask your attorney about legal fees and see that they are dealt with to your satisfaction in the written agreement between you and your attorney (often referred to as the engagement letter).
The advice and direction of your attorney will be essential to implementing an estate plan that both disposes of your assets according to your wishes and meets your other personal objectives.