Most people know when they should have a will. But most people are intimidated by the first step in getting it drafted -- finding an estate attorney. This process does not need to be scary if you approach it like this:
1) Find the attorney:
a) Ask your friends. One of the easiest ways to find an attorney is to ask people you know. In fact, if you ask relatives, you may be able to find an attorney who will be familiar with your family and your circumstances, making things a little less complicated for you.
b) Check with your local bar association. Local bar associations keep lists of attorneys to whom they can refer you on any number of topics.
c) Try the internet. There are many websites dedicated to finding lawyers in various fields, including estate law.
2) Interview lawyers:
a) Once you get a list of names, you should do some interviewing. These days, lawyers know that their clients don't just come walking into their offices and say, "Please take care of me." Believe it or not, there is a lot of competition for your business among lawyers. So, don't be afraid to call a few lawyers and talk to them. Estate attorneys are going to be helping you with intimate questions and you should feel very comfortable with this person. Ask the attorney for a resume or a description of experience in these matters. Ask how long he or she has been practicing. Ask what percentage of this attorney's practice is estate planning. Estate planning is a very specialized field, and, although most people's wills are not very complicated, it makes sense to hire someone who has spent time learning about it.
b) Check references for attorneys whom you find through referral services. And you should check with the state disciplinary board to make sure that this lawyer has not had any disciplinary measures taken against him or her if you know nothing about the attorney.
3) Don't be afraid to bargain about your rates.
a) Since lawyers are having to compete for business these days, don't assume that their rates are fixed. Most attorneys have a standard price for drafting a standard will. However, that doesn't mean that you can't mention to them that another attorney you spoke to is willing to draft it for less.
b) Also, see about getting a package rate. If you are looking to have a will, a living will, and a set of powers of attorney for you and your spouse, ask the attorney if he or she would be willing to charge you less for doing all those things.
4) Get it in writing:
Ask the attorney to set out your arrangement in writing. And don't be afraid to make them get specific - have them set out the rates you agreed to for each document or for the whole package. Of course, you have to expect that things will come up or be more complicated than either party anticipated in advance, which could change the rate. But if things go smoothly, you can expect that the attorney could give you a good idea of what the cost will be. And that should be written down.
If you follow these simple steps, you can find an estate attorney whom you will feel comfortable can help your family through the events in your life that wills are designed to handle.
Ms. Levitan practiced law for more than a decade as a trial lawyer at a large Philadelphia firm before she decided to spend a greater portion of her time caring for her young children and volunteering for charitable organizations. She also writes articles to help consumers navigate the legal world.