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Tisser's Top Ten Choosing an Estate Planning and Trust Administration Attorney


10 Questions to ask your attorney

Finding the right attorney to assist with your estate planning and trust administration can be a frustrating and confusing experience. With the myriad of resources and consultants in the marketplace, here are a few questions to ask the person you are considering using as your estate planning attorney.

  • Board Certification. Is the attorney Board Certified in Probate, Estate Planning and Trust Law by The State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization? It would also be helpful if the attorney is additionally Board Certified in Taxation Law, as well. Board certification for attorneys helps consumers find lawyers who have demonstrated their ability and experience in specialized fields of law.
  • Tax Knowledge. Is the attorney well-versed in the intricacies of tax laws as they relate to estate planning? Can the attorney determine whether a Grantor Retained Annuity Trust, Sale to Intentionally Defective Trust, Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust or other estate planning technique may be appropriate for you?
  • Changes in Laws. Does the attorney keep up with the myriad of changes (both tax and non-tax) in the estate planning area?
  • Taxation of Life Insurance. Does the attorney understand the intricacies of the taxation of life insurance? Remember, life insurance proceeds are not automatically tax-free.
  • Trust Administration. Can the attorney advise your trustees on trust administration after you die? For example, can he or she help establish an Administrative Trust after you die? Does he or she have the necessary knowledge (tax and otherwise) to assist with disclaimers and allocate your assets among various trusts, taking into account the income, estate, generation-skipping transfer and property tax consequences?
  • Specialization. Does the attorney practice in areas of law unrelated to estate planning? If yes, then he or she is unlikely to maintain the necessary, in-depth knowledge to handle your estate planning needs.
  • Protective Trusts. Can the attorney set up trusts for your children that should protect them from their creditors and spouses, in addition to avoiding estate and generation-skipping taxes at your children’s death, such as Heritage Trusts?
  • Privacy Family Trusts. Can the attorney set up a privacy family trust for you to avoid others finding out what real estate you own in your trust?
  • Lifetime Goals. Can the attorney help you meet your lifetime goals for yourself while achieving your goals at death, such as estate tax savings and protecting your children?
  • Teamwork. Is the attorney knowledgeable enough to work with your other advisors (such as accountants, financial advisors and insurance agents) and understand how their input into the estate planning process is required in order to complete your estate plan?

NEVER ASSUME YOUR ESTATE IS SO SIMPLE THAT YOU DO NOT NEED AN ESTATE PLANNING SPECIALIST. Even a simple estate planning matter can turn into a nightmare.

Remember, your estate planning team should include a knowledgeable estate planning and trust law attorney who will take the time, and have the knowledge, to properly prepare your estate plan.