How to find an estate planner...

Non-investing personal finance issues including insurance, credit, real estate, taxes, employment and legal issues such as trusts and wills
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Lemonaid56
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How to find an estate planner...

Post by Lemonaid56 » Tue Jan 14, 2020 5:22 pm

Hopefully this is the correct place to ask.
MIL lives in Texas and we are in Northeast.
In-laws had a trust drawn up years ago when they lived in Fla. They sold that place and moved to San Antonio area and then FIL died recently.
MIL has decided to review the will/trust as its pretty out of date now.
How can I help her to find a reputable lawyer from this far away?
They are retired Air Force and I was wondering if they make recommendations or have such a service available?
Absolutely any advice will be helpful.

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JAZZISCOOL
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Re: How to find an estate planner...

Post by JAZZISCOOL » Wed Jan 15, 2020 7:06 pm

One idea is to check the state bar association. In my state there is a search function for attorneys with various types of practices, e.g. estate law.

Just found this for Texas:

Upper right part of home page says "find a lawyer". If you select "advanced search" you can select "estates and probate." :happy

https://www.texasbar.com/

Also, since she has a military association, you might check out USAA which I think has a big presence in TX. They offer all sorts of services including trust so may have some recommendations for lawyers. May be worth a call:

https://www.usaa.com/inet/wc/investment ... stservices

Trapper
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Re: How to find an estate planner...

Post by Trapper » Wed Jan 15, 2020 7:48 pm

I would start with “one off” professionals in your Mom’s circle. Think asking her CPA, her credit union or bank manager, or even medical professionals for a name.
As your Mom ages and you shoulder more and more responsibilities, you may want you use your network locally to engage the professionals where you live to handle your mothers concerns.

bsteiner
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Re: How to find an estate planner...

Post by bsteiner » Thu Jan 16, 2020 8:55 am

JAZZISCOOL wrote:
Wed Jan 15, 2020 7:06 pm
One idea is to check the state bar association. In my state there is a search function for attorneys with various types of practices, e.g. estate law.

Just found this for Texas:

Upper right part of home page says "find a lawyer". If you select "advanced search" you can select "estates and probate." :happy

https://www.texasbar.com/

...
Usually bar associations aren't a good place to look since they can't favor one member over another. But in Texas, using the link you provided, you can search for San Antonio and board certified in estate planning.

That will bring up several dozen lawyers, which is understandable since San Antonio's population is about 1.5 million.

The lawyer who handles your estate planning might also be able to help her find someone.

Or she could ask people she knows for recommendations

You could then check their bios and their firms' websites to get a sense of who's likely to be a good fit.

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lthenderson
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Re: How to find an estate planner...

Post by lthenderson » Thu Jan 16, 2020 9:27 am

For any kind of search like that, I start by asking people around me or in this case, your MIL, who they might recommend. I found my estate lawyer this way and have been happy with them. My parents found their estate lawyer by asking their CPA for recommendations.

jhh9327
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Re: How to find an estate planner...

Post by jhh9327 » Thu Jan 16, 2020 10:08 am

lthenderson wrote:
Thu Jan 16, 2020 9:27 am
For any kind of search like that, I start by asking people around me or in this case, your MIL, who they might recommend. I found my estate lawyer this way and have been happy with them. My parents found their estate lawyer by asking their CPA for recommendations.
I don't have the answer to how to find a good estate planner, but isn't there more tangible criteria that could be provided to the OP to help identify a good estate planner versus a well liked estate planner (who may or may not be any good)? Take this same advice (ask others who they are happy with) and apply it to finding a good financial advisor and most on this site would cringe on who many friends and family would recommend. Yet I see this same type of advice commonly given as the answer for most other topics. Mini-rant over.

Ranunculus
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Re: How to find an estate planner...

Post by Ranunculus » Thu Jan 16, 2020 12:41 pm

I've had some success with a "follow the money" strategy to find professionals. For example, contact a bank in the vicinity of your mother than has a well regarded (look on yelp, other review sites) trust administration department. Contact that department and ask them for recommendations of several local estate attorneys. The trust department is charged with administering the documents produced by estate attorneys, so they will have a good idea of who produces the best documents.

A brief search turned up this bank as possible source of references:
https://www.jeffersonbank.com/wealth-ma ... nd-estates

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lthenderson
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Re: How to find an estate planner...

Post by lthenderson » Thu Jan 16, 2020 3:19 pm

jhh9327 wrote:
Thu Jan 16, 2020 10:08 am
lthenderson wrote:
Thu Jan 16, 2020 9:27 am
For any kind of search like that, I start by asking people around me or in this case, your MIL, who they might recommend. I found my estate lawyer this way and have been happy with them. My parents found their estate lawyer by asking their CPA for recommendations.
I don't have the answer to how to find a good estate planner, but isn't there more tangible criteria that could be provided to the OP to help identify a good estate planner versus a well liked estate planner (who may or may not be any good)? Take this same advice (ask others who they are happy with) and apply it to finding a good financial advisor and most on this site would cringe on who many friends and family would recommend. Yet I see this same type of advice commonly given as the answer for most other topics. Mini-rant over.
You bring up a good point but I would say that the reason the majority on here would cringe at whom a friend would recommend for a financial adviser is because we know about the Boglehead way of investing, We on this forum are a tiny minority of the population as a whole. (In fact I have yet to find anybody outside of this forum who knows about being a Boglehead before I told them.) For the majority of the population seeking financial advice, they might be very happy with a financial adviser recommended by a friend or family member. That is why I think asking for a personally recommended estate planner is going to be the best way to get someone who is good. It is not a guarantee but better than randomly stabbing your finger at an entry on some website list.

supalong52
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Re: How to find an estate planner...

Post by supalong52 » Thu Jan 16, 2020 4:30 pm

Find someone who is a fellow of American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (ACTEC).

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dm200
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Re: How to find an estate planner...

Post by dm200 » Thu Jan 16, 2020 6:51 pm

What we learned from our experiences - good and bad:

For candidates to consider - bar association, friends/relatives, radio and direct mail advertising, financial advisers, radio call in shows, etc.

Questions to ask (and evaluating answers):
1. What part of your law practice is estate planning work?
- Only consider attorneys who do a majority of their practice in estate planning
2. How long have you done estate planing work?
- I would only want an attorney that had done estate planning for quite a while OR, if a young attorney, would consider him/her if the law firm primarily focused on estate planning.
3. For about what percentages of your estate clients do you recommend wills and trusts?
- I would only consider attorneys that have a mix - not all trusts and not all wills
4. Describe your typical client:
- I would only want an attorney that has a significant number/percentage of folks like me
5. How do you bill? Fixed fee? Hourly rate? Other?
- I would not want hourly only - the "meter" can run up big charges for "research", etc. I would want a fixed fee (including reviewing and correcting drafts) for the type of plan agreed to. A stated fee for an initial consultation (30-60 minutes) for about several hundred dollars would be OK.

Our best experience was with a very experienced estate planning attorney that I found because he had a weekly estate/elder legal radio call in show.

greenhorn401
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Re: How to find an estate planner...

Post by greenhorn401 » Thu Jan 16, 2020 9:56 pm

We interviewed 5 estate attorneys in San Antonio; they range from lawyers working for national law firms to a single person law office. We found two via the web, one was a recommendation of a friend, and another one was what Fidelity recommended if you go through their website to search for estate planning lawyers. All of them are board certified in Estate Planning and Probate Law. One of them was an ACTEC fellow.

While focusing on the competency of the laywers, we found that selecting an attorney that was "compatible" was just as important. At the time, every single one of the attorneys offered a free consultation so we took them up on it. If your MIL is willing and able to do this I would recommend it. If you have to do this remotely then I don't see you having too many choices other than either word of mouth or picking some lawyer off of a website/list.

bsteiner
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Re: How to find an estate planner...

Post by bsteiner » Thu Jan 16, 2020 10:22 pm

dm200 wrote:
Thu Jan 16, 2020 6:51 pm
...
For candidates to consider - bar association, friends/relatives, radio and direct mail advertising, financial advisers, radio call in shows, etc.
...
How do you bill? Fixed fee? Hourly rate? Other?
- I would not want hourly only - the "meter" can run up big charges for "research", etc. I would want a fixed fee (including reviewing and correcting drafts) for the type of plan agreed to. A stated fee for an initial consultation (30-60 minutes) for about several hundred dollars would be OK.

Our best experience was with a very experienced estate planning attorney that I found because he had a weekly estate/elder legal radio call in show.
Bar association -- probably not, since they can't favor one member over another, and if they have a list, the better ones probably won't be on it since it's likely to generate lots of calls from callers who wouldn't be appropriate.

Friends -- could be good depending on the friends' situations.

Radio and direct mail advertising -- probably the ones to avoid.

Financial advisors -- could be good depending on the financial advisor.

Radio call-in shows -- except for Jim Lange whose shows are high level (full disclosure -- I've been a guest on his show two or three times), probably not. They're basically half hour or hour long commercials.

Most lawyers work on a time basis. If someone wants a fixed fee, we have to try to estimate the likely range, and then quote at the high end of the estimated range, or a bit above the high end of the estimated range, since we're taking a risk, and since clients who want fixed fees are likely to use more than the average amount of time.
greenhorn401 wrote:
Thu Jan 16, 2020 9:56 pm
We interviewed 5 estate attorneys in San Antonio; they range from lawyers working for national law firms to a single person law office. We found two via the web, one was a recommendation of a friend, and another one was what Fidelity recommended if you go through their website to search for estate planning lawyers. All of them are board certified in Estate Planning and Probate Law. One of them was an ACTEC fellow.

While focusing on the competency of the lawyers, we found that selecting an attorney that was "compatible" was just as important. At the time, every single one of the attorneys offered a free consultation so we took them up on it. If your MIL is willing and able to do this I would recommend it. If you have to do this remotely then I don't see you having too many choices other than either word of mouth or picking some lawyer off of a website/list.
There are about 1.5 million people in San Antonio so there should be a number of good choices.

You might have done better with #6, the one who doesn't do offer free consultations. The 5 consultations probably took more of the lawyers' time than it took for the one you hired to do the job. The initial meeting is also the hardest part of the job. I hope you were courteous enough to tell each of them that you were consulting 4 others so they would have that information before deciding whether to meet with you.

greenhorn401
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Re: How to find an estate planner...

Post by greenhorn401 » Thu Jan 16, 2020 11:06 pm

You might have done better with #6, the one who doesn't do offer free consultations. The 5 consultations probably took more of the lawyers' time than it took for the one you hired to do the job. The initial meeting is also the hardest part of the job. I hope you were courteous enough to tell each of them that you were consulting 4 others so they would have that information before deciding whether to meet with you.
Our estate planning was pretty straightforward, but in the absence of a stronge endorsement from someone I know, I don't think I would be able to pick an estate attorney without talking to him/her first to get a feel of the type of person I'll be working with. I wasn't seeking out attorneys that offer free consultations; but it just so happened that the ones I was interested do. We were also very clear when scheduling the consultation to not promoise any future engagement and that we were talking to other attorneys until we find one that's professionally and personally compatible.

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dm200
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Re: How to find an estate planner...

Post by dm200 » Fri Jan 17, 2020 9:43 am

greenhorn401 wrote:
Thu Jan 16, 2020 11:06 pm
You might have done better with #6, the one who doesn't do offer free consultations. The 5 consultations probably took more of the lawyers' time than it took for the one you hired to do the job. The initial meeting is also the hardest part of the job. I hope you were courteous enough to tell each of them that you were consulting 4 others so they would have that information before deciding whether to meet with you.
Our estate planning was pretty straightforward, but in the absence of a stronge endorsement from someone I know, I don't think I would be able to pick an estate attorney without talking to him/her first to get a feel of the type of person I'll be working with. I wasn't seeking out attorneys that offer free consultations; but it just so happened that the ones I was interested do. We were also very clear when scheduling the consultation to not promoise any future engagement and that we were talking to other attorneys until we find one that's professionally and personally compatible.
Yes - I feel the same way! Some such attorneys (our last one did) offer FREE group short presentations on estate planning. Some others offer such group presentations for a modest fee (such as $25 to $50). This local firm offers them free - https://mikecollins.com/ . He is also on the radio locally each week. We did not use this firm, but we know many folks who have.

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