Do you have an estate? If you are reading this, chances are you do. Everything you own; your house, car, bank accounts, 401K, life insurance, even your furniture…and even that Star Wars Toy collection (Don’t deny it if you have it!). Size or amount of belongings doesn’t define if you have an estate or not. If you have money and/or stuff, then you have an estate, and you need a plan for it, because, SPOILER ALERT, when you die, you can’t take it with you.

Did you know that if you don’t proactively have an estate plan created for yourself and your family prior to your death, then the government has one for you? Without an estate plan in place, the government will decide who gets what, who raises your children, what to do with your assets, how much taxes you have to pay and yes, will most likely give your treasured Star Wars Toy collection to your least favorite cousin. SO not cool.

What to do now? My guess is that you don’t want the government to decide for you. And the best way to be ready is to hire an Estate Attorney to help you design your own plan. This could help you avoid head aches and your family and love ones. Follow these tips to find a good estate attorney:

  1. Ask those you trust:  I recommend you to start by talking with professionals you are already working with; financial advisors, accountants, even you doctor can give you good starting point.  This might prove beneficial; because they will most likely send you to someone they have had success with. 
  2. Social Media: After you have a list of candidates, go online to check out their websites, reviews, postings, etc. Check out their licenses, registrations, records by checking the appropriate authorities (Bar Associations, etc.) 
  3. Ask questions before you go: In my experience, most attorneys will give you the first consultation for free, or will apply the initial fee to the total cost of the plan.  To avoid surprises, ask what will happen in the first meeting, what costs you might incur, and what you should bring to make the initial meeting most productive.
  4. Ask more questions: Here are a few questions you might want to ask the attorney:
    1. Does my planning fee include a regular review of my plan? 
    2. What if I want to make changes later?
    3. Is there an extra cost to re-title my assets?
    4. Is the service guaranteed?
  5. Team up:  Come to the meeting with your spouse or partner, a friend can also help you with this.  Be sure the important decision-makers in your family or situation are present at that initial consultation.

At the end of the day, the attorney is a person you have to feel you can trust. By being referred by others, it might help expedite the process. The clearer you can be, the better chance your attorney has of designing an estate plan just for you…that honors your wishes…that makes sure your serious matters, and not so serious matters, are handled exactly as you wish. And possibly most importantly, to make sure that your amazing Star Wars Toy Collection gets put in the hands of the right person.

So seek out your estate attorney soon! Don’t let the Dark Side take over your estate planning.

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