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Hiring an Estate Planning Attorney

Jeremiah H. Barlow

JD, Head of Family Wealth Services


As you age, the importance of estate planning becomes clearer and clearer. What will you leave behind to loved ones, and how will you divide your assets in a way that ensures your legacy will be carried on the way you want?

Building a sound estate plan involves a good deal of paperwork and strategy. To navigate the complex world of state and federal laws and taxes, you’ll likely want to enlist the help of an estate planning attorney. The right estate planning lawyer can set your beneficiaries up for success when the unfortunate but inevitable time comes.


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. This need for precision along with the myriad, complicated state laws you’ll need to consider are reason enough to hire an estate planning lawyer. Your estate plan needs to be indisputable, otherwise your assets can get tied up in probate, which could prove costly. Estate planning attorneys know the ins and outs of what documents you need to prepare, how you need to structure them, and the process of executing your plan when you’re no longer around.

The right estate planning lawyer can also help you navigate how significant life changes can impact your estate plan. Once you create your plan, you should review it every couple of years to account for changing circumstances in your life and the lives of your potential beneficiaries.

Marriages and divorces can play important roles in how you decide to allocate your assets. Perhaps you’ll want to update your plan after the birth of a new grandchild. These life events, as well as the buying and selling of real estate and family businesses, can have considerable implications in terms of 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. People with more assets to distribute tend to create their estate plans earlier than, say, someone with more straightforward financials. Regardless, it could be a good idea to start building your plan with an estate planning attorney sooner rather than later. As discussed above, you can always update it as things change.

Aside from age and level of wealth, here are some other reasons that 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 goal—and that you have all your t’s crossed and i’s dotted.
  • 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 peace of mind, 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. State laws can be difficult to plan for, especially if you have a beneficiary in a different state than where you reside. Bequeathing assets to non-immediate family can complicate matters further, as many states only account for direct blood relatives.
  • 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 to account for the more… irresponsible family members—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 a must in this scenario.


What do estate planning lawyers do?

An estate planning attorney’s capabilities extend far beyond helping you write your will or set up a trust. The benefits outweigh the cost—hiring an estate lawyer can help reduce estate and inheritance taxes, saving your estate and its beneficiaries in the long run. By minimizing your tax burden, you can ensure there is more money to cover education, healthcare, and other expenses for your children and grandchildren.

In terms of healthcare, an estate planning attorney can also prepare medical directives and powers of attorney for yourself (if you become incapacitated) or loved ones for whom you are the primary caregiver. These preparations not only secure your financial legacy—they help make sure your assets and loved ones are taken care of after you’re gone.

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 on your estate or how assets are transferred to your beneficiaries. Perhaps the best reason to hire an estate planning attorney is that they are experts on these matters, and they can help you make sense of state regulations and tax laws, especially any 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, you’re going to get what you pay for. 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.


How to find the right estate planning advisor

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. 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.

At Mercer Advisors, an estate plan with our dedicated team of estate planning attorneys is included when you invest $1MM+ in assets with us. We have created thousands of estate plans to help clients protect their legacies [1].

[1] Mercer Advisors is not a law firm and does not provide legal advice to clients. All estate planning documentation preparation and other legal advice is provided through Advanced Services Law Group, Inc.

Mercer Advisors Inc. is the 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.

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