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Learn about hiring an estate planning attorney in 2024

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You can't browse the internet or watch television without seeing an advertisement for "Draft your own Will online" and Do-It-Yourself Will-writing software packages. Of course, we all want what's easiest, fastest and cheapest.

But most of us aren't willing to sacrifice effectiveness, especially when it comes to planning for our loved ones' future.

Note: If you want to brush up on the basics of Georgia estate planning (Wills, Probate, Power of Attorney, Revocable Trusts, Irrevocable Trusts and Advanced Healthcare Directives) take a look at these free ebooks.

Access the free videos and subscribe to the Firm's channel on YouTube by clicking here.

While DIY estate planning is certainly possible, there are risks involved with crafting an estate plan alone. After testing several common Will-writing products, Consumer Reports found that all are inadequate unless the simplest of estate plans is all you require (meaning no children, no second or third marriages, no trusts, and no concerns about cutting costs, optimizing taxes or avoiding probate).

Unlike most Americans, professional estate planning and probate attorneys have spent decades perfecting the art of the perfect estate plan. DIY wills are therefore much more susceptible to error without assistance from an estate lawyer. Without a lawyer, you run the risk that your power of attorney, will or trust won't function as planned or isn't legally valid at all.

For example, state law governs how an estate plan must be prepared to be legal. There are hundreds of minute details that only an experienced estate planning and probate attorney will be aware of. State law decides which forms must be filed with the court, and under what conditions signatures may be deemed legally valid. Georgia law lays out the numerous restrictions on who can be an executor, financial power of attorney, medical power of attorney, trustee, witness to a trust or witness to a will.

On top of that, state law changes regularly and documents must be updated to comply with these changes. An estate lawyer is aware of any changes in state laws that may affect your plan and knows how to quickly change your documents to keep things compliant.

Mistakes could cost your family thousands of dollars to repair. Without an estate lawyer to help prepare your documents, probate lawyers, the IRS or the Georgia Department of Revenue could steal away with a majority of your family's inheritance.

Trust Mills

I want to take a moment to warn you about "trust mills." These are companies, always non-lawyers, who are self-described estate planning experts that don't really give you any advice at all, but steer you towards the most expensive plan they can get away with. They can't give you legal advice because they are not lawyers.

Interestingly, I'm aware of one that promotes the "tremendous sense of confidentiality" that a person should have because this company operates out-of-state. The implication is that the people you may work with locally will blab your personal, confidential information to everyone they meet at the supermarket. But, the "trust mill" is under no obligation to keep your information private (unlike lawyers who are bound by the attorney-client privilege) and they admittedly share your information with others who may benefit from your information.

My warning to you is not to work with someone who isn't licensed to practice law in your state. First, lawyers can't really cross state lines unless they are licensed to practice there so the person or company you may work from a "trust mill" is most likely not a lawyer. Second, you can't really know what kind of operation the person or company is running. In this case, it's good to see with your own eyes to determine whether the person or company is reputable. Finally, many of these companies have been sued and have faced criminal charges for selling products the consumer do not need in the first place.

When should you seek help from an estate planning lawyer?

Even the simplest of plans can benefit from the guidance of an experienced estate planning attorney, but certain individuals should not forego the personalized guidance of an attorney, including those who:

  • Are separated or recently divorced
  • Are in a second, third or later marriage
  • Are not married, but are in a domestic partnership
  • Are in a same sex marriage or partnership
  • Have stepchildren
  • Have adopted children
  • Have a family member who requires specialized medical care
  • Want to gift biological children different amounts
  • Have foreign heirs
  • Own real property
  • Own foreign real estate or property in other states
  • Own a business
  • Have significant IRA or 401(k) assets
  • Have a net worth over $1 million
  • Owe on estate taxes
  • Want to avoid probate through the use of trusts
  • Want to donate part of your estate to charity
  • Want to use irrevocable trusts to protect assets

Even if you do choose to use an online will drafting site or software, everyone can benefit from having an experienced estate planning and probate lawyer review their will and overall estate plan.

How to select an estate planning lawyer

Selecting an estate planning and probate lawyer could be the one of the most important decisions you make. The right lawyer can mean the difference between a successful distribution of your estate and significant loss of your estate to probate lawyer fees, the Georgia Department of Revenue and the IRS.

Because of the complex estate planning and probate process, making certain that your wishes are fulfilled successfully requires an estate planning and probate lawyer with the specialized expertise and resources required to create a thorough, legally valid and maximized estate plan.

Here are a few factors to consider in hiring an experienced estate planning attorney:

Tailor-Made Estate Plans

You, your family, and your legacy are unique. Whether you are planning for long-term care, providing for a special needs child, or preserving your children's inheritance, find an attorney who can craft the individualized estate planning strategy you need. Don't go to someone who also practices business law, family law, or some other branch of law while doing estate planning on the side.

Find a lawyer who never uses a cookie-cutter approach for resolving matters of probate or Medicare planning, or resorts to using a rote formula for writing up your estate plan. The estate planning attorney should tailor each estate plan to your specific goals, whether that includes ensuring you can afford a nursing home, take care of a special needs child, protect your child's inheritance after a divorce, and more.

Referred by others

You should see what others have to say about the lawyer. You should use one that has been referred by, at least, hundreds of people. Visit the lawyer's website and see if hundreds or thousands of others have had great things to say about the lawyer. There is no greater way to evaluate a lawyer than what others have had to say about him or her and their services.

Regularly writes or speaks about estate planning

By working with an attorney who regularly writes or speaks about estate planning, you'll see an attorney who is on top of changes in estate planning laws. As an example, I've written a couple of different books on estate planning. One is tailored for a Georgia audience and is titled Estate Planning for the Modern Family: A Georgian's guide to Wills, Trusts, and Powers of Attorney. The other is similarly named and ranked as a # 1 new release on Amazon. Additionally, I routinely hold seminars to educate the public on important estate planning topics such as how to protect your home and family from the Probate Court.

Our mission is to ensure you have the knowledge, resources, and legal documentation needed to preserve and pass down your legacy. We will work one-on-one with you to tailor an estate planning strategy to you and your unique needs and in the future when you need to make updates or modifications. We are dedicated to helping you find peace of mind and take care of your loved ones.

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John P. Farrell, Esq.

Mr. Farrell is the author of Estate Planning for the Modern Family: A Georgian's Guide to Wills, Trusts, and Powers of Attorney. You can learn about his book here and learn more about John here. Join the more than 1,500 people who subscribe to his Newsletter here. Feel free to send John a message here.

At the Farrell Law Firm, PC, we represent Georgia residents in Marietta, Kennesaw, Acworth, Atlanta, Smyrna, Vinings, Mableton, Austell, Powder Springs, Clarkdale, Ball Ground, Canton, Holly Springs, Lebanon, Cartersville, Calhoun, Waleska, Woodstock, Alpharetta, Fairburn, Palmetto, Red Oak, Roswell, Dallas, Hiram, Dunwoody, Lawrenceville, Norcross, Cumming, Cobb County, Cherokee County, Bartow County, Fulton County, Douglas County, Gwinnett County, and Paulding County.