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Five Red Flags When Working with an Estate Planning Attorney

I know, I know. Lawyers have a poor reputation to begin with.

Every industry has its shady individuals. The legal field certainly has that issue as well.

I’d like to think that estate planning is impervious to shady attorneys. After all, we are helping people accomplish what they want rather than tear things apart.

But, unfortunately, even estate planning attorneys have flaws.

And I’m about to spill the tea.

Here are some red flags if you are working with your estate planning attorney:

Red Flag #1: They charge hourly.

If you have a standard estate plan, you should not be getting charged hourly. It incentivizes the attorney to drag their feet and do everything twice. Otherwise, how else will they get paid?

Almost all standard estate plans should be a one-time flat-fee. That’s it. End of story. There’s no excuse otherwise.

Now, if you have multiple properties, a complex family situation, a need to set up Medicaid planning, a need for a pre-marital agreement, etc. then maybe an hourly fee would be appropriate. But these are the exception, not the norm.

Red Flag #2: They draft you a testamentary trust.

A testamentary trust is not usually in your best interest. The whole point of most trusts is to avoid probate. A testamentary trust is a will that creates a trust once the will enters probate.

In other words, a testamentary trust will have the attorney 1. charge you a higher fee for a trust, 2. lessen the workload for the attorney because there is no trust to fund, 3. still force you to go through probate (and hire an attorney again), and 4. the attorney will collect your fee for probate as well. It’s a sweet gig for the attorney, and a terrible deal for you.

Testamentary trusts are usually appropriate in rare circumstances, like special needs children who are qualifying for government care, or Medicaid planning. If you have a pretty standard situation, you do not need a testamentary trust.

Red Flag #3: They are adamant you go with one option only.

A good attorney should give you options and explain the pros and cons to each option. A good attorney should also give a recommendation and explain future problems that might arise.

A terrible attorney will not listen then tell you exactly what you need with no further discussion.

If your attorney does not explain options, this is a sign that he/she is an attorney who wants to perform legal services with a cookie-cutter mentality. This is not good.

Red Flag #4: They do not have a professional appearance.

Go to the attorney’s website. Is it clean and easy to use? Or is it from the 90’s with solid blue bars the sides with the font too small?

Does their email come from msn.com? Gmail.com? Outlook? Red flag all around.

If an attorney can’t pay enough attention to their electronic presence, how can we trust that same attorney to pay enough attention to your important legal documents?

Red Flag #5: They do not listen and try to oversell you.

One of the very first questions out of an attorney’s mouth to you should be: what would you like to accomplish with an estate plan? What is important to you?

If the attorney never asks you that, and the attorney is talking about Medicaid planning when you didn’t even mention Medicaid, there is something fundamentally wrong with the conversation.

An attorney might add suggestions or insights to future problems you might not have anticipated, but, at the end of the day, if the attorney is telling you about how their complex estate plan is going to solve all of your problems that you never even mentioned nor card about, run for the hills.