Hiring an Estate Planning Attorney: When Does it Make Sense?

Jasna Veledar

Lead, Estate Planning Strategist


An estate planning attorney has the knowledge and experience to help you build a plan for protecting you and your heirs.

Hiring an Estate Planning Attorney: When Does it Make Sense?

As you accumulate wealth and experience more life events, the importance of estate planning becomes clear. Who do you want to inherit your assets? How much will you allocate to each beneficiary? Who will care for your dependents? Protecting your legacy with a sound estate plan can be an overwhelming process without the right guidance.

An estate planning attorney helps you build a plan by providing the proper documents, developing a strategy to fulfill your wishes, and navigating the complex world of tax impacts.

Reasons to hire an estate planning attorney

When it comes to your estate plan, proper documentation is key. One misplaced word or phrase, or even a missing signature, can throw off your entire will or trust. The need for precision and knowledge of complicated state laws are reasons enough to hire an estate planning lawyer. Your estate plan must be indisputable, otherwise your assets could get caught up in a long and costly probate process. Estate planning attorneys know the ins and outs of preparing and organizing the proper documents as well as the process for executing them when you’re no longer around.

The right estate planning lawyer can also help you understand how significant life changes might impact your estate plan. Once you have a plan, you should review it every couple of years to account for changing circumstances in your life and the lives of your beneficiaries. Marriages, divorces, and births may change how you decide to allocate your assets. Buying and selling real estate or a family business can have a considerable effect on how you divide your estate.

If you’re wondering when you should hire an estate planning attorney, timing largely depends on your age, overall health, the makeup of your estate, and your family situation. It’s generally a good idea to start building your plan with an estate planning attorney sooner rather than later as you can always update it as things change.

Aside from age and level of wealth, some other reasons warrant hiring an estate planning lawyer:

  • You’re interested in setting up an irrevocable trust. “Irrevocable” means you will not be able to adjust the trust’s terms and you give up control of any assets you put into the trust. Given its irreversible nature, an estate planning attorney can make sure you’ve considered alternatives based on your goals.
  • You need to appoint a guardian for an immediate family member. If you are a primary caregiver for a loved one — especially those with special needs, health problems, or a disability — an estate planning lawyer can help ensure the responsibility gets passed on to the right person. For your loved one’s wellbeing and your own reassurance, taking this step now can make sure their money, medical needs, and other life decisions are taken care of properly.
  • You want to pass on assets to a stepchild or half-sibling. Bequeathing assets to non-immediate family can complicate matters, especially if you have a beneficiary in a state from where you don’t reside. As many states only account for direct blood relatives, it can be difficult to plan for beneficiaries based on different state laws.
  • You want to exclude an immediate family member from your will. There are a lot of common misconceptions about disinheriting a beneficiary. To make sure you fully understand the control you have over your assets and how they’re distributed, it’s best to work with a licensed estate planning lawyer. That way, you can build the appropriate provisions into your will and address those concerns in a thoughtful and effective manner.
  • You need a succession plan for a small business. If you’re a partner or full owner of a small business, you’ll need to develop a succession plan that helps the business succeed after your death. With the help of an estate attorney, you can put together a strategy that carries on your business’ vision and growth plan while ensuring that control ends up in the hands of the right stakeholder.
  • You own assets or property in a different state or country. State laws are already tricky enough, especially when it comes to taxes and asset transfer requirements. International laws can weave an even more complicated web around your assets, so getting professional advice is usually necessary in this scenario.

What do estate planning lawyers do?

An estate planning attorney’s capabilities extend far beyond helping you write your will or setting up a trust. Hiring an estate lawyer can help reduce estate and inheritance taxes, which can save your estate and its beneficiaries money in the long run. By minimizing your tax burden, you can ensure there is more money to cover education, health care, and other expenses for your children and grandchildren.

In terms of health care, an estate planning attorney can also prepare medical directives and powers of attorney for you (if you become incapacitated) or loved ones for whom you are the primary caregiver. These preparations secure your financial legacy, plus they help make sure your assets and loved ones are protected.

Some estate lawyers may also specialize in specific areas of legacy planning. For example, if you’re a small business owner, it may be beneficial to engage with an attorney who focuses on succession plans.

In all likelihood, you’re not an expert on state and federal laws and their implications. Perhaps the best reason to hire an estate planning attorney is that they are specialists on these matters, and they can help you make sense of state regulations and tax laws, especially new legislation’s impact on your retirement and estate planning strategy.

How much will an estate planning attorney cost?

Since estate planning attorney services are highly specialized, the amount you pay will correlate with the service you receive. Types of fees and amounts may vary by state and firm, but most lawyers will charge you for an initial review meeting, typically by the hour. To anticipate this upfront cost, it’s best to request a quote prior to that first meeting. This will help you compare rates and make sure you stay within your budget.

Estate planning attorneys can charge you for their services in different ways, so be aware of whether you’re paying a fixed fee or by the hour. Generally, the more time your attorney spends working on your estate plan, the higher the cost.

Finding the right estate planning advisor

Estate planning should not be an afterthought or separate from total wealth management. If you have savings and retirement accounts, insurance policies, real estate, large investments, or a small business, a solid estate plan can help you secure your assets as they pass on to the next generation.

You’ve worked hard throughout your life to build and maintain your wealth. To ensure that wealth has a lasting impact, it’s important to work with a trusted estate planning attorney.

At Mercer Advisors, we create a comprehensive financial plan for our clients that integrates estate planning. Our estate planning strategists work directly with our wealth advisors, tax and trust specialists, and financial planners to create an estate plan that meets our clients’ needs and protects their legacy.

If you are not a Mercer Advisors client and have questions about hiring an estate planning attorney or want to know more about our total wealth management services, let’s talk.

Mercer Advisors Inc. is a parent company of Mercer Global Advisors Inc. and is not involved with investment services. Mercer Global Advisors Inc. (“Mercer Advisors”) is registered as an investment advisor with the SEC. The firm only transacts business in states where it is properly registered or is excluded or exempted from registration requirements.

All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author as of the date of publication and are subject to change. The information is believed to be accurate, but is not guaranteed or warranted by Mercer Advisors. For financial planning advice specific to your circumstances, talk to a qualified professional at Mercer Advisors.

Mercer Advisors is not a law firm and does not provide legal advice to clients. All estate planning document preparation and other legal advice is provided through select third parties unrelated to Mercer Advisors.

All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author as of the date of publication and are subject to change.

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