When you hire a lawyer to prepare your estate plan, both you and the lawyer should work at keeping your working relationship efficient and productive. Your lawyer should always clearly explain your options, estimate what the legal work will cost, and treat your decisions with respect. Here are some pointers for holding up your end of the deal.
BE HONEST AND FORTHCOMING. To get the best estate plan for you and your family, you’ll need to give your lawyer detailed information about your assets and finances—what you own, what it’s worth, how you hold title, and so on. But estate planning is all about your goals for your family—which means that you may also need to share some private or embarrassing information about family members. For example, what if you want to leave money to your children equally, but one of them is terrible with money, has an addiction problem, or is married to someone you don’t trust?
Your lawyer should have some good suggestions for ways to handle difficult family situations. Instead of leaving money outright to an irresponsible child, for example, you might want to set up a trust, with someone else to manage the money for that child’s benefit. A solution like that could save your family a lot of heartache down the road.
It’s unpleasant to air this kind of dirty laundry, but it’s imperative that you do so. Keep in mind that your lawyer has heard about all kinds of family dysfunction before and won’t be shocked by anything you have to say. And because of attorney-client confidentiality, your lawyer cannot disclose anything you say in the context of your professional relationship.
PAY BILLS PROMPTLY. Paying your lawyer on time sounds simple, but clients sometimes let lawyers’ bills slide. And you can’t expect a lawyer to keep working for you without getting paid. If you’re having trouble with a bill, talk to the lawyer and work out a plan for payments.
EDUCATE YOURSELF. Lawyers are good at lots of things, but they aren’t always good at explaining legal concepts in plain English—and you probably don’t want to pay them to educate you, anyway. So get a leg up on the whole estate planning process by learning the basics before you see a lawyer. If you’re an informed client, you’ll know what questions to ask and be more likely to understand the answers.
ASK QUESTIONS. Don’t be afraid to ask about anything you’re unsure of. But you can make things more efficient for both you and the lawyer if you collect a few questions and ask them together, during one phone call or visit. (If you’re paying hourly, this will also save you money.) Email is also a good way to organize your thoughts and questions. If you’re talking on the phone or in person, take notes on the lawyer’s answers—estate planning can be legally complicated and emotionally taxing, and (just as when you visit the doctor) it can be hard to remember everything you heard.
HELP OUT. Don’t pay a lawyer for routine tasks that don’t require legal skills. You can do a lot of work yourself. For example, you could gather documents the lawyer wants to see, such as deeds, divorce decrees, insurance policies, and retirement account statements. You could also make phone calls to track down information.
We have been representing estate planning clients for the past 22 years. If you have questions about how we can be of service to you and your family, give us a call at 253.858.5434. We proudly represent clients throughout Washington and Idaho and are available to meet in person, by phone, or via Skype or FaceTime.