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How To Choose An Estate Planning Attorney

As its name suggests, general procuration (General Power of Attorney) permits your agent to perform a variety of acts such as paying bills, managing your business and personal affairs, as well as estate planning. An Attorney or family member is often appointed, depending on the individual’s preferences and personal situation. There are several reasons to relinquish power of attorney to a lawyer or a trusted relation, but one of the most common reasons is convenience. General procuration gives an individual the freedom to travel, relocate, or focus on other responsibilities while having a capable person handle necessary affairs in their absence or stead. You simply supply the instructions to your agent who then has the power to legally perform the tasks required.

A protection that you may want from your general procuration is the “disability clause”. This clause provides that the general procuration goes into effect only when your general physician certifies that you are unable to handle your affairs. This certification is an affidavit signed by the doctor in front of a notary. This limits the use of the power of attorney until a time when your general physician agrees that you are unable to handle your affairs. This can be temporary or continue onto your passing away, in which case an estate planning attorney is often assigned the role as agent. Remember, if and when you regain your abilities, you will once again regain control after proper legal process is followed. Be aware that the general procuration does not include making health care decisions. That power is granted in a Special Limited Medical Power of Attorney.

Utahans are living longer these days and are at more risk for times of incapacity. The time to protect yourself is now while you are still of sound mind, so you can specify how you would like your business and personal issues handled in case there is a time when you are not able to deal with those matters. In these cases, it is common to appoint your estate planning attorney as your agent.

There are many benefits to choosing a qualified professional over a personal relation such as a family member. While you may trust a family and friend, often times they are not equipped to handle the complexities of tasks such as amending wills and monitoring trust funds. Improperly prepared wills or financial gifts can lead to heavy taxes and inappropriately distributed funds, which can be potentially devastating to your loved ones. An estate planning attorney has the necessary skills as well as your best interest in mind, as they have no personal or emotional investment in how your affairs are to be handled.

If you are considering appointing an agent for general procuration, carefully review your options and discuss the details with a qualified lawyer, such as an estate planning attorney. They can help guide you in the right direction and ensure that you have all of the information you need to appoint an agent that will best serve your needs. With the help of a qualified estate planning attorney, you can handle the business of making sure your money, belongings, and-most importantly-your loved ones are properly cared for after you are gone. You can make a will that will be legally binding, give over power of attorney to a trusted friend or associate, make your own funeral arrangements, and much more. There are ways to accomplish these things on your own, but you are far better off contacting someone who has the knowledge and experience to help you.

Here are some things you should look for when choosing a lawyer.


Hiring an estate planning attorney shouldn’t cost you everything you’re trying to pass on. Lawyers are never cheap (and you probably shouldn’t hire someone who is), but that doesn’t mean you can’t find someone with affordable rates. Charging an arm and a leg isn’t a sign of a better lawyer; it’s a sign that he caters to rich clientele and can get away with it. While you certainly shouldn’t look for bargain basement deals, there’s no harm in shopping around a bit before you commit.


Experience makes all the difference between a good lawyer and a poor one. An estate planning attorney can have a degree from the finest university in the country and they may still not be appropriate for your purposes. Make sure that they are. You can do this by determining not only how long they have been practicing, but also how long they have been working in this field of the law.

Attention and Availability

You need someone with whom you can consult, not a rubber stamp. If you just want a lawyer to put their signature to a piece of paper, you can find one for a lot cheaper than you’ll find an estate planning attorney. Yet this doesn’t stop many such lawyers from charging a hefty amount, meeting for an afternoon, and then rarely being available from that point forward. Don’t stand for this. If you’re paying for legal counsel, make sure you receive it.


Even if you are retired, you may have a busy schedule. It can be difficult to make time for appointments. If this describes your situation, look for an estate planning attorney who can make the time to meet with you, even if that involves staying late one afternoon or rescheduling another appointment. This is the sign of a lawyer who cares, which is exactly what you want when moving forward with what can be some very delicate decisions.

What Will the Attorney Do?

It’s tempting to save time and money by drafting your own will or investing in a will kit. It is impossible, however, for any of these simplified methods to accomplish all of your wishes, because every situation is unique. Also, there is not software in the world that can provide qualified advice that stems from experience. A qualified estate planning attorney will be able to help you navigate through laws governing property rights, taxes, wills, probate and trusts.

What to Look For

Only an estate planning attorney who currently practices in the related fields will be able to provide you with sound legal advice concerning your estate plan. Look for an estate planning attorney that is a member in good standing of the national bar association. Also, confirm that the estate planning attorney you are considering is up to date with continuing education requirements. Also, make sure every attorney you screen has malpractice or liability insurance, in case they make a mistake.

There are several things to look for in an estate planning attorney. Make sure to interview each prospect extensively to make sure you feel good about your final decision. Some of the questions to ask are:

  • How long have you practiced in the estate planning field?
  • How would you rate your level of experience and qualifications in estate planning law?
  • Are you a member of any bar associations or estate planning organizations?
  • Are you current with the bar’s continuing education requirements?
  • Does your firm back you up with liability or malpractice insurance?
  • How do you deal with complicated family conflicts?
  • Can you give me an example of a very simple case you’ve had versus a very complicated one?

Ask for Referrals

You can certainly look in the yellow pages or online for a qualified estate planning attorney in your area. However, the vetting process will be much longer and more complicated if you are starting from scratch. On the other hand, if you contact an attorney whom comes highly recommended by a trusted friend or family member, there is a built-in degree of confidence that no money can buy. Ask around – at work, church, among friends, or even at your children’s school. Someone you know is bound to have a good (or even a bad) story about an estate planning attorney. Even if you don’t come across a recommendation of a specific attorney that can help you, you might be able to avoid working with a bad one by heeding warnings from friends.

Estate Planning Attorney Can Do For You

A specialist in estate planning brings experience and expertise to the table. But what many people fail to realize is that with this level of experience and know-how also brings with it many unforeseen benefits. For example, and as mentioned previously, the landscape of estate and tax law can be difficult to navigate. New federal mandates and complicated tax laws make passing your assets to your loved ones a sometimes difficult and costly process.

An estate planning attorney understands this, and knows how to navigate the system in ways that would best work to your advantage.

  • An estate attorney can counsel you on ways that you can avoid paying an estate tax on part of your estate. The current estate tax rate is 45%, and that rate can even be increased by such things as ‘skipping’ a generation when giving away part of your assets. Consequently, a 45%+ decrease in your personal wealth will mean less of your hard-earned money that your family will be able to keep.
  • An estate attorney can guide you through the various instruments available to you to bequeath your assets. He or she can explain the difference between a Will and a trust, and offer you expert advice on which would work best for you and your loved ones based on your individual situations.
  • An estate planning attorney can keep you informed about recent changes in law that might affect your personal wealth.

For example, he or she would be able to enlighten you on such things as FDIC insurance, how it has been recently raised, and what that means for your estate planning goals. Many people, when choosing whether or not to hire an attorney for their estate planning needs, worry that the cost of a lawyer would be too much. In truth, decisions regarding your personal wealth and your family’s future are some of the most important decisions you can make, and an area of concern in which you can’t afford not to have the best advice and expertise.

How Much An Estate Planning Attorney Costs

The cost of working with an attorney varies depending on where you live, what services you receive, how complex your situation is, and the lawyer’s fee structure. Many estate attorneys offer a free consultation, which you can use to discuss the basics of what you want and how much you’re willing to pay. Estate planning attorneys typically charge more in a city compared to more rural areas. Different services also have different costs. For example, getting a simple will may cost you a couple hundred dollars, while setting up a trust is likely to cost more.

Hourly Fees Vs. Flat Fees

An estate planning attorney may bill you according to an hourly rate or a flat fee.  A flat fee offers the benefit of indicating up front how much you will pay, but neither billing method is necessarily better and they’re used in different situations. If you pay an hourly rate, you may have to pay a retainer, an amount that you pay in advance based on the expected cost for your services. The estate lawyer will use the retainer to pay for their services, and you may have to pay more if the final cost goes beyond the retainer.

An attorney is more likely to offer a flat fee if they feel they can confidently predict how difficult it will be for them to create your documents. So you may be able a flat fee for a will, but you may have to pay the attorney’s hourly rate if your will has the potential to be complicated. Some lawyers may even offer certain “packages” that include preparing a predetermined set of estate documents for you.

Situations When You Should Hire An Estate Lawyer

Most people could benefit from working with an estate planning attorney, but it may not be necessary (and you may not want to pay for it) in many situations. On the other hand, people in certain situations may need the help of a professional to ensure their estate plans are comprehensive and accurately state their intentions.

Here are some common situations where you may want to consider hiring an estate lawyer instead of doing things on your own:

  • You’re a small business owner or a business partner who needs help with business succession planning.
  • You have out-of-state property or assets. Passing on assets can get tricky if they’re crossing state boundaries, since two states may have different tax codes or other legal requirements for how to transfer an asset.
  • You have foreign property or assets.
  • You’re planning to bequeath assets to someone who isn’t a citizen. You could also run into issues if you plan to name an executor who isn’t a legal Utah resident. Certain tasks, like getting a tax ID to open an estate account, may not be possible for nonresidents.
  • You want to leave a legacy. An estate attorney can help you set up a charitable trust for your donations, which can also give you a tax break.
  • You want to disinherit your immediate family. This may be harder in some areas, like in community property states, where you and your spouse share ownership of your assets.
  • You have a blended family and want to bequeath assets to a stepchild, stepparent, or half-sibling. These individuals most likely won’t receive any of your assets unless you take deliberate steps in your estate plan to ensure they do.
  • You have immediate family members with special needs or who need to qualify for government benefits, like Supplemental Security income (SSI) or Medicaid. If you provide care for anyone who has special needs, an estate lawyer can help you appoint a guardian for them and create a robust plan that includes a special needs trust. You want to protect your assets from Medicaid. If you receive long-term care or other services through Medicaid, the Medicaid Recovery program may seek repayment by claiming some of your estate, like your house, after you die. A solid estate plan will protect your assets and allow you to pass on as much of your estate as possible.
  • You need to set up an irrevocable trust because are worried about estate tax or need asset protection from creditors and lawsuits. An irrevocable trust likely can’t be closed or changed once you create it, so it’s best to talk with an estate attorney first to understand whether or not it’s the best option for you.
  • If your goal is simply to pass on assets without going through probate, a revocable trust is probably enough and you can create one without an estate planning lawyer.


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