Right Type of
process of deciding whether to use a lawyer, asking
important questions, and understanding what to expect
throughout the journey.
This article provides guidance to help you navigate the process of deciding whether to use a lawyer, asking important questions, and understanding what to expect throughout the journey.
When you’re thinking about how to best write your will, you may wonder whether or not you need a lawyer. You might be thinking, “Do I need a probate lawyer or a will attorney?” or, “How do I choose a lawyer?” It might seem overwhelming to choose the type of attorney for estate planning and begin the process of making a will with a lawyer. As part of our plan to support planned giving explained, here are the steps you’ll need to take to write a will with a lawyer.
Do I Need a Lawyer for a Will?
The simple answer is, it depends on the size of your estate and the complexity of your family situation.
- Have a specific asset list of all your possessions
- Can designate one clear beneficiary for each asset
- Are not afraid of your will being contested (for example, by stepfamily)
Then you can probably write your will on your own, without hiring a will attorney. However, bear in mind that as life changes and takes you to new places, you may need to revise your will. Making changes to your will can be complex and will also usually require a lawyer’s skill.
- Have complex assets such as a business held in partnership
- Want to transfer some of your assets to a trust
- Want to donate to charity with legacy gifting in your will
- Are unsure if the benefits of charitable bequests apply to your will
- Are not sure how to distribute your assets
- Have an estate size that is liable for estate tax
- Have a complex family situation and want to make sure your wishes are fulfilled
- Are afraid your will may be contested
- Want to designate a power of attorney in case you become incapacitated
Then you most likely will want to hire an attorney to write your will. Even if only some of these apply to you, you’ll find the involvement of an attorney to be helpful.
Which Attorney Do I Need?
So you’ve decided to hire a lawyer. But what type of attorney handles wills and estate planning?
Well, the question is if you need an attorney who specializes in writing wills, or if a general practitioner will do.
Just like you did in the decision of whether or not to hire a lawyer at all, you’ll want to evaluate:
- The size of your estate
- The complexity of your will
A general practitioner is usually less expensive, but less proficient and knowledgeable.
An attorney who specializes in writing wills is usually more experienced and knowledgeable, but also will charge a higher rate.
Rule of thumb: The bigger and more complex your estate, the more experienced your lawyer should be.
An estate planning attorney helps you plan for the future. This type of lawyer assists with drafting legal documents like wills and trusts, and they’ll guide you through decisions about life support and power of attorney. If you’re trying to prepare your estate and ensure your wishes are respected after you pass away, this is the type of lawyer you need. They can help you minimize potential estate taxes, set up trusts for beneficiaries, appoint a guardian for any minor children, and establish who should manage your estate upon your death.
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How Do I Choose an Attorney?
Okay, you’re ready to hire an estate lawyer. How are you going to find one you trust? Here’s a breakdown of the steps to find a lawyer:
1. Ask family and friends for recommendations
This is a great way to find a lawyer. When you know your family member or friend had a positive experience with the lawyer, you’ll have more confidence in that lawyer’s skill. Ask questions like, “Was the lawyer helpful? Did he answer your questions? How much did he charge?” to get a feeling of what the experience using a specific lawyer might be. You can check online lawyer directories to get some more names of local lawyers in the estate planning field.
2. Check online references
If you haven’t gotten good references from people you know, this can also be step 1.
In this step, you want to research the names of specific lawyers in your area that you think might be a good fit for you. You can use sites like nolo.com or avvo.com to research lawyers and their track records. Part of this research might mean reading Google reviews about the lawyer, or asking your local state bar association for information. Many lawyers also have personal websites where you can learn more about their practice.
3. Schedule a consultation
After doing proper research, you should have one or more names of lawyers that seem like they may be good candidates for the job. Before making your final decision, it’s helpful to schedule a no-obligation consultation. Many lawyers offer this service free of charge, so both you and the attorney have a chance to see if you’d like to work together. You might meet in person, or get on a call for this consultation.
What Should I Ask a Lawyer Before Hiring?
Here are some questions you might ask when you speak with a lawyer on a consultation:
What are your fees?
Lawyers have two general fee calculation methods:
- Hourly Fee- you pay for every hour the lawyer works on your case
- Flat Rate- a preset amount that covers a certain amount of services in will-making
Ask the lawyer if his fee is hourly or flat. If he offers a flat fee for your basic will, ask him what services are included in that set amount. Set amounts will vary by lawyer, but you can expect to pay a few hundred dollars for a basic estate plan.
If the fee is hourly, ask him what the rate per hour is. Although a busy lawyer may not do this for you, you can ask him to estimate how many hours he thinks your estate plan might take to prepare. Be prepared for it to take more hours than the amount mentioned, if necessary.
What’s included in the estate planning you offer?
Ask the lawyer what he does as part of estate planning. Some lawyers help you buy life insurance, some help you set up trusts, and some will handle the probate process. Most will help you draw up all the legal documents related to will-writing and review them as necessary to make sure that they’re legal. You can ask about all these services in a consultation.
If you know you want a lawyer to handle probate, make sure to include that in this discussion. Here’s also when you can ask about probate fees. Often, probate fees are taken from the estate itself.
How do you communicate with clients?
The answer to this question will give you insight into the lawyer’s process. You’ll see how easy it will be to reach the lawyer when you need to, and if you think it will be easy to work with the lawyer.
You can also ask how long it takes for the lawyer to respond to any of your communications. Very busy lawyer offices will take longer.
What is your process for making legal changes to my will?
Some attorneys will include regular review of your legal documents in their flat fee for an estate plan. This is important, because laws can change and your will should always be up-to-date. It’s also important because as life goes on, you may change your mind about clauses in your will.
Do I Need a Lawyer for a Will?
When you’re working with an attorney, you may wonder how long to expect the will-writing process to take. Every lawyer will agree that every estate plan is different. Like every part of estate planning, so much depends on the complexity of your estate. With the right type of attorney for estate planning, most simple wills take a day or two to complete. For more complex ones, the process may take a few weeks. The process can also include setting up trusts and power of attorneys, which will take longer.
Once you’ve hired an attorney and signed an agreement, you’ll have an initial meeting where the lawyer will get to know your case. Be prepared to answer all the lawyer’s questions as best as you can. Bring along legal documents that relate to the assets that will be part of your will.
After this meeting, the lawyer should lay out a game plan. He’ll let you know what your next steps will be. In simple cases, he will likely be able to prepare your will for you to sign the very next day, as long as you’ve provided all the necessary information.
When you sign your will, you’ll likely need to do so in front of two adult witnesses. If you’ve hired an attorney, this is simple to do. During the meeting with your lawyer in which you sign your will, the lawyer will probably call in other employees who work in the office to be legal witnesses to your will.
Once your will is signed in front of two legal witnesses, it’s a valid and binding legal document. The best place to store your will is to file it with your local probate court, if that is an option in your area. This allows anyone to find your will easily when the time comes.
Many people also choose to leave a copy with their lawyer. If you’ve named a different executor, then the lawyer will send a copy to the executor as well.
Wherever you store your will, you’ll always be able to make changes if necessary, as long as you make sure to update it legally.
What Happens When I Make a Change?
When you want to change your will, you’ll need to go back to a lawyer to make the change. If it’s a very substantial change, you might need to make a completely new will.
Even if you wrote your will on your own, you might need to hire a lawyer if you want to make a change to your will. Making sure that your changes or new will are legally binding is worth paying an expert to advise you on, to prevent heartache after your death. A substantial will change is something most people want legal help for. If you’re hiring a lawyer to make a change to your will, you can follow the above checklist to help you choose the right lawyer.
It’s worth investing time and effort into the process of choosing your estate attorney, as the right legal advice will be able to help you on many matters. Whether it’s creating a living trust or ensuring that all of your family members remember you fondly, a lawyer with experience can give you wise advice and substantial help.