How Long Does It Generally Take For You To Create A Successful Estate Plan?
The amount of time it takes to set up a successful estate plan depends on how much you need done. We have a whole system that we utilize so that everybody knows at every step of the way what they’re required to do. It is a give and take with the client. A lot will depend on how quickly the client responds with what they need to provide us because we can’t create an estate plan that’s going to be of any value if we don’t know what the assets are. If the client doesn’t give us the information we can’t assist them in getting those assets transferred into the trust. It sounds like I’m pushing trusts and I do under certain circumstances because I think a living trust is a document that everyone should have. It’s not just for the wealthy because there are so many other reasons to have it. For example, if you have minor children.
In our experience the process can take six to eight weeks with a client. We’re not working 40 hours a week on it but because we have other clients but that’s including the time we take coming in, setting up the first consultation, and getting all the information from the client. We don’t send out something to the client have them fill it out, we do it with them, and then we give them homework. They bring that back to us and then we give them a road map showing where we’re going to develop the documents. You’re going to have a phone review with you or you can come in and we have a meeting to make any changes. Then the final signing, which can take up to two hours in our firm. We go through the documentary details. We give the client a lot of information and then we send out letters to all of their institutions to assist them in getting the funding process started.
We have a final funding meeting several months later. Once they get back all the information from the banks we sit down with the client to make sure that things are properly aligned; that they’re going in to the trusts that they set up properly.
If it’s a will plan then that’s much faster. We can do that within a few weeks. It just depends on our time frame and how many other people are waiting in line, but I’ve never put it in terms of hours because that isn’t how it works.
What Qualities Should I Look For In An Estate Planning Attorney? What Are Some Red Flags?
When looking for an attorney to help plan your estate there are certain qualities to look for and red flags to avoid. Some red flags would be learning how much experience the attorney has had. If they’re brand new out of law school they may be good, but they’re probably not someone you want to work your life plan out with. They may be great attorneys but you want to find a firm that has experience. For example, we are members of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.
That may not mean much because there’s a lot of memberships you can be affiliated with. But something that means a lot to our clients is that we’re a small firm and we have a personal touch with our clients. People get very attached to us in the firm. We put on events and do all kinds of stuff for our clients; we want to build that rapport. However, being a small firm can seem somewhat limited.
One of the things you want to know is if that firm has a plan for your documents if something were to happen to that firm. You don’t want to go to someone who’s working out of their home. By the same token, if you can go to a small firm then you want to make sure that they have a powerhouse behind them. In our case, being members of the American Academy, we’ve done that because we feel that it’s a benefit to our client. Our clients are going be taken care of because there are members throughout the country who understand our philosophy, who utilize similar products in terms of the boilerplates that we use that have been vetted over 26 years by attorneys all over the country. We have the brain trust if you will. We have access to an education team that we can call anytime. We have resources in almost every state in the country. If we don’t know how to handle something in that state, we can call someone or we can get on the internet and get some answers.
I think you want to have someone who has access to information even if they don’t possess it themselves. Attorneys like to act as if we know everything; we don’t. We don’t know everything and that’s why they call it the practice of law. I come from a family of lawyers; my father was a lawyer, my brother’s a lawyer, and my cousins are lawyers. I was the black sheep I went into theater arts and music. And yet, here I am back in the fold. I understand that there is a professional impression that we try to make. In order to serve the clients well, we have to open up our minds and our hearts a little bit. To say I don’t know everything but I know how to get it for you. I know how to fix it for you. Every client that comes in has something a little unusual; some little difference. You want an attorney who’s going to be able to ferret out that difference and not throw you into the same pot with everybody else.
That’s the way I think about my clients. I try to look for those things where I can add a little value that they’re not going to get somewhere else. It’s that work, that’s really my heart. That is our philosophy. We want the plans to work and we want our clients to feel like they can rest at night.