This week I had the benefit of sitting through four hours of information regarding the taxation of IRAs. I call it a benefit very intentionally. It’s a benefit for me and a benefit for my clients. Now, I am not a tax attorney or a CPA, but taxes and knowing IRS law and regulations directly affect how I draft documents and advise my clients to list their beneficiaries. Those decisions are extremely individualized and often is a discussion with the client and their tax or financial advisor, so unfortunately, you’ll never see a discussion of those issues here. However, it made me ask what the estate planning attorney you are working should know. As such, here are some questions to ask your estate planning attorney before working with her:
- How do you charge? What other fees should I expect?
- Will you work with my other financial professional? Are there additional fees for doing so?
- Do you fund a trust for me or help me change beneficiaries?
- I always send my clients away with homework, whether there is a trust involved or a just a will, my clients often will need to update a title or beneficiary. Some attorneys will do this for their clients (generally for an additional fee). If you know you will not do these things, I strongly recommend finding an attorney who will do this. However, if you are cost conscious, then an attorney who doesn’t do this may not be important. No matter what, I would still recommend hiring an attorney who will advise you on titling and beneficiaries; as well as one who will follow up to ensure you have changed appropriate titles and beneficiaries.
- How often will you contact me?
- Tax laws (among others) change every year and you don’t want to be the one responsible for knowing if those laws change and if they affect your plan. I would recommend an attorney who will at least talk with you once a year to determine if an update to your plan is necessary.
- How often and how many wills/trusts/estate plans do you complete a year? How do you stay current on tax law?
- The number of plans an attorney completes a year directly relates to their incentive to stay current on law affecting those plans. So while an attorney may have done hundreds, if they only do a few year, are they really knowledgeable of the current law? I know many older attorneys who do not advise beneficiary designations in the most advisable way because the law has changed since they last actively practiced.
You should be comfortable working with whomever you hire and this needs to include communication, knowledge level, and expectations. Know what you and your professional expect from one another at the beginning and your estate plan is much more likely to be what you expect and want. Hopefully, these have made you think of your own questions for any attorney or any financial professional you are looking to hire. In the end, remember, the decision is your and you are the client.