These days, you have a lot of options available to you in the legal services industry. With important legal matters, you need to find an attorney who is experienced, and that you know you can count on. Here are 4 questions to ask your attorney, before you decide who to trust your legal matters with.
Estate planning is a delicate art, the central goals of which are preparation and prevention. Every word of an estate planning document has significance, and many estate planning litigation cases turn upon the court’s interpretation of a single word or phrase. A will or trust will be completely worthless to your family if it contains errors, omissions, simple mistakes, or if the attorney did not have sufficient foresight to prevent litigation by being as clear and detailed as possible. It can be easy for a lawyer to copy and paste a will or trust together while focusing primarily on other areas of law, but an attorney who focuses primarily on estate planning will be sensitive to all future possibilities for litigation, even as he drafts your documents.
Far and away, the biggest mistake people make when creating a trust is failing to properly fund it. A trust will not exist without trust assets. Even if you sign and notarize a long and detailed trust and keep it in your safe until your death, if that trust has not been funded with your home, bank accounts, retirement accounts, stamp collection, or other assets, it does not exist and your assets will have to go through probate, which is what you were trying to avoid all along. Even if your heirs are able to convince the court to retroactively fund your trust, this process requires thousands of dollars of attorneys fees and several months to complete. Always choose an attorney who will write your deed or assignment of property into the trust on the day you establish your trust. Choosing an attorney who does not provide these services is risking a waste of your money and time if you fail to ultimately get these documents drafted, or if the drafter you hire makes mistakes.
Because one of the central goals of estate planning is the prevention of future lawsuits, it is critical to choose an attorney who practices litigation and trust administration himself, because he will think like a challenger to your will or trust. In carefully drafting your documents, he will be able to envision future potential problems and work specifically to address them long in advance. An attorney who does not practice the administration and litigation of trusts simply cannot contribute as much preparation and prevention to your estate plan.
Your investment in creating a trust is not a one-stop shop because your life is not stagnant and neither are those persons listed in your trust. The recent economic downturn is further proof that trustors need to have the flexibility to amend their trusts as often as they wish. It is important that you feel comfortable with your attorney so that you can go back and easily make changes if and when you need them without having to consult a new attorney and redraft your documents. Some attorneys provide trust maintenance plans that allow you to make changes to the trust without incurring the cost of rewriting the trust.