Find a good attorney for estate planning

Farm Forum

When a family makes a commitment to forming an estate plan, the biggest obstacle they face is deciding where to start and who to turn to for advice. Reading articles that deal with the subject such as this is a good preliminary step as it can help to get you thinking about exactly what it is you would like to accomplish and give you some general ideas and concepts to consider. Each and every family is unique in its own way, but at least you have gained some general knowledge.

Now, you must actually take some action and get the ball rolling. This is where the vast majority of folks fail as uncertainty sets in and with that comes delaying the action needed. Questions such as, “we are not sure what we want to do” or “how to make it happen” are common. Further still is apprehension as to who they need to seek to help them through the process from beginning to end.

That being said, a good attorney knowledgeable in the subject is of utmost importance. Unfortunately due to our rural nature, most attorneys dabble in a little bit of everything in order to make a living. Leaving us with few that are well versed in what we need done. We need a specialist and not a generalist for this work. Nearly every attorney will tell you they understand estate planning and they do… in a general sense. No different than the fact that your family doctor understands how the heart functions, but I really wouldn’t want them breaking out the scalpels to perform open heart surgery in their exam room. This is best left for those who have dedicated

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themselves to keeping up with all of the latest developments concerning tax laws and the various accepted methods and tools needed to implement what you would like the final outcome for your family to be.

Now, hopefully we are in agreement as to how valuable a good attorney can be. Is the attorney the best place to start the process? Probably not. They are best at being the ones who finish the estate plan in the regards that they can offer the advice, solutions, and documents needed to fully implement your needs and wishes.

I highly recommend sitting down with a financial advisor who can ask all of the pertinent questions needed to uncover not only the financial information as to the scope and scale of your operation, but far more importantly, gain an intimate understanding of the family dynamics involved. As with the attorney, you will want someone who has chosen to make this field their specialty and has not only the knowledge, but the experience needed to walk your family through the entire process from the initial informal conversations right on down to sitting with you in the attorney’s office as your advocate in completing the process in the most straightforward and cost effective manner.

You see, most attorneys are more than happy to sit back and throw their feet up on the desk and listen to your family try and hash out personal issues at 200 bucks an hour. It is best to have this done before you venture into the law office. It just streamlines the entire process and lets the attorney do what they have been trained to do and that is to provide the pertinent legal counsel as to how to best achieve your goals and then draft the necessary documents to complete the process.

Next month I will outline what to look for in a good attorney and what to look out for as well.

Dennis Foster has advised family businesses on estate and financial planning since 1991, and can be reached at 605-887-7069. His column is published the first Friday of each month.