Searching for a lawyer who can help you put together a good estate plan may seem like a daunting task. But with a little help, you should be able to find several qualified lawyers to choose from. Here's a list of seven resources for locating an estate planning attorney in your state.
- Ask family, friends and business associates for a referral
The biggest compliment that an estate planning attorney can receive is a referral from a happy client. Speak with your family members, friends and acquaintances, or people you meet through your business, and ask if they can recommend an estate planning attorney. Even if the lawyer isn't located in your immediate area, it's possible with modern technology for you to work long-distance and still get the same results as the person who referred you.
- Ask your financial advisor for a referral
Your financial advisor should be a great source of information for you, including finding a qualified estate planning attorney in your area. Many advisors view estate planning as an essential part of their clients' overall financial goals, and so these advisors have one or more estate lawyers that they'll refer their clients to depending on each client's individual needs. If your advisor hasn't approached the subject of estate planning with you, be sure to bring it up with your advisor. Also, go ahead and ask your advisor who did his or her own personal estate plan - the answer may be just who you're looking for.
- Ask your accountant for a referral
Many estate lawyers turn to accountants for help with estate, trust and income tax issues. Thus, chances are your accountant can recommend one or more estate planning attorneys in your area to put together your estate plan. Likewise, many accountants seek out estate planning lawyers for their clients since accountants have direct access to their clients' financial information and family situations which warrant the need for an estate plan. And go ahead and ask your accountant who did his or her own personal estate plan - the answer may be just who you're looking for.
- Ask other attorneys you've worked with on other legal matters for a referral
Chances are a lawyer you've worked with in setting up your business, buying your home, or reviewing a contract will know one or more qualified estate planning attorneys in your area. And lawyers are always quite happy to refer their clients to other lawyers who don't practice in their area of expertise because this will promote referrals back the other way. Aside from this, go ahead and ask your lawyer who did his or her own personal estate plan since many non-estate lawyers won't even attempt to create their own estate plan (the saying, "A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client" certainly holds true in estate planning). I have quite a few non-estate lawyers as clients, so chances are your lawyer will have an estate plan that was drafted by another local lawyer who specializes in estate planning.
- Contact your state or local bar association for a referral
Each state has a bar association and lawyers located in a certain city or county may also have their own bar associations. Many of these associations maintain a list of their members and their practice areas, and some even offer certified referral services to the public. Check your local telephone directory or online for a referral service in your area.
- Check advertisements in your local telephone directory or newspaper, or on the internet, radio or television for a referral
Many lawyers, including estate lawyers, advertise through various means, including in print, on the radio or on TV. All states regulate attorney advertising, so only ads that pass the strict scrutiny of the state bar association are allowed. This insures that the attorney isn't making false claims or promising unattainable results.
- Contact your local probate court for a referral
This may not work for you - particularly if you live in a large city - but in smaller communities the court clerks know all of the local attorneys and which ones are easy to work with and which ones the judges like. Since I practice in a small town and have a good working relationship with the court clerks and judges, I've received several referrals this way and consider it one of the highest compliments.
This list is really only a starting point and doesn't even attempt to address the vast amount of information you can find about professionals, including estate lawyers, on the internet. Sometimes, however, too much information is just that, and so you need to stick with some basic methods. These seven should help.