Choosing the right estate planning attorney is a lot like choosing the right shoe. If you’re looking to buy a shoe for long-distance running, you won’t buy a flip flop. You’ll want to get a tennis shoe that’s specifically designed for running to maximize comfort and minimize the chance of injury. Using that same logic, would you hire an entertainment lawyer to draw up your will? Of course not! The entertainment lawyer (much like the flip flop) doesn’t have the right tools to get the job done.
Estate Planning involves laws and concepts that most attorneys are never exposed to, either in law school or in practice. (And on this note, Louisiana’s estate planning laws are vastly different than in other states, so while this guide is on how to choose an estate planning attorney, if you need planning and live in Louisiana, you’ll need to hire someone licensed in this state.)
So when you’re looking for someone to handle the planning that will give you and your family peace of mind, what tools should they have?
- Years of Practice. Estate plans are unique to each person and require your attorney to take the facts they’re given and shape a plan to fit your goals. There are very few one-size-fits-all answers so you’ll want an attorney with years of practice under their belt. A seasoned estate planning professional will know the ins and outs of this area of law and can better help you accomplish the goals you want to set now, as well as anticipate any problems that may arise in the future. You don’t want to be a guinea pig for someone who doesn’t know the ropes.
- Involvement in Related Organizations. Another thing to look for is an attorney who is involved with local and national estate planning organizations. Different organizations have different benefits, including access to advanced education, or the ability to work with other knowledgeable professionals. Some reputable estate planning organizations for attorneys are The National Association of Estate Planners & Councils and the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys. Another group, The American College of Trust and Estate Counsel is the most selective of all of these groups. It’s members go through a challenging membership process, so clients whose attorneys are in this group can be confident in the abilities of their attorney.
- Good Reviews. If you seem impressed by someone’s website, check out their reviews. A cursory internet search will usually show a rating of 1-to-5 stars if the attorney has their business set up with Google. However, there are other places to look for attorney ratings: Avvo.com and Justia.com are two of the most popular. Notably, other attorneys can review attorneys on these sites as well. See what clients and peers think before committing to one attorney.
- Specialization Accreditation. There are currently nine different areas in which attorneys can be accredited specialists in Louisiana. One of these is Estate Planning and Administration. Attorneys can be recognized as Specialists only after completing rigorous application and testing protocols meant to insure that the attorneys have sufficient experience and the up-to-date knowledge needed to effectively serve their clients. Unlike the Bar exam that only tests minimum competency in certain core areas of the law, the specialization exams test an attorney’s depth of knowledge in a certain field of the law. A minimum of five years of practice devoted toward the specialization area is needed before being eligible to sit for the specialization exam, so someone who is a Specialist has already been in practice for some time.
Like a shoe, you want to make sure your attorney is the right fit. So before you put on a flip flop to go for a jog, do your research to see how choosing the right attorney will maximize your peace of mind and minimize the chance of running into future problems with your estate plan. While most all attorneys can help you draw up a will, you now know what to look for when seeking out someone to make your planning wishes a reality.
The information provided is not intended to be legal advice and does not constitute any attorney/client relationship. You should consult with an attorney for individual advice regarding your own situation.
Ms. Melancon is an attorney with Legacy Estate & Elder Law of Louisiana, LLC with offices in Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, and New Orleans. The primary focus of her practice is estate planning, probate, special needs planning, and elder law. For more information or to attend an upcoming estate planning seminar, call her office at (225) 744-0027.