How to Choose a Financial Planning Attorney
Should you consider using a financial planning attorney. Often, a simple meeting with an attorney can make all the difference in the world when it comes to an orderly asset transfer.
Here’s a story to illustrate why a couple in Indiana decided to take the do-it-yourself approach to financial planning. The husband died unexpectedly, and when the wife began to transfer assets, as they had agreed upon, horrible mistakes were uncovered. The simple use of a beneficiary form would have reduced their expenses and time of asset transfer to a couple of weeks instead of the year it finally did take.
Plus, legal expenses including probate reduced the size of the estate. A short and not expensive visit with a financial planning attorney would have made a great deal of difference in their desired goal.
Here’s what to look for:
1) You need an attorney that specializes in financial planning.
Many attorneys are general practitioners who practice a gamut of legal fields from insurance law to corporate law. They may have a client list of financial planning clients, but you need a specialist.
2) You need to feel comfortable with your attorney
It’s important not to discount this. You want an attorney you like and have a rapport with. You will be spending time with this attorney making important decisions. If you do not like the attorney, no matter his or her competence, it can affect the outcome. If you like the attorney, the attorney is going to like you and therefore do a much better job.
3) Attorneys location
From a convenience side, ideally, you want an attorney nearby with good parking. There is no need to fight traffic for hours on end. It’ll only cause stress, and you may need to come to the office on short notice to sign a document. Try to find an attorney as close to where you live as possible.
How to find a financial planning attorney:
1) Call the state bar association
Every U.S. state has a bar association. Call and ask them for a referral to start the process of finding a quality attorney. Make sure to ask who they think is the most competent/best financial planning attorney. They will likely give you a concise list.
2) Interview attorneys
I recommend you sit down with at least three attorneys to get a feel for them and how they can help you before retaining their services.
Come prepared: Outline what you need from the prospective attorney and measure their feedback. Let them know you are cost-conscious and that will be a factor when calculating the attorney you hire. Ask for estimated fees and costs; attorneys are business people; they will quote you a price range.
NOTE: What do they need from this attorney?
Questions to ask attorneys:
1) Ask what their experience is. How many cases they have handled, etc.
2) Is the attorney part of a group that allows the attorney to access information outside of the attorney’s specialization? You may have related questions the attorney for which they may need to ask another professional.
3) How much of the casework does the attorney personally do? How much is outsourced to other lawyers in the firm? It’s okay if they outsource some, but know which parts and how the attorney oversees that work.
4) Get specific billing amounts and schedules are the costs by the hour or job? How are hourly fractions calculated? You may want a flat fee, or you may want to pay by the hour. Ask the attorney which is the most cost-effective.
5) Ask the attorney how he or she handles any billing disputes that may arise. Things may happen that require more work from the attorney. Know up front how the attorney handles those situations beforehand.
6) Will the attorney provide a written statement of expected charges? Will you receive itemized monthly bills?
This is merely a guideline. You’ll have other questions that come up during the interview process. Don’t be afraid to ask them all. By doing so, the attorney will respect you more, and you’ll get a more cost-effective and competent job as a result.