Estate Planning: Choosing an attorney

Finding an attorney to help you prepare for the transition of your estate to the next generation is a very important component of the estate planning process.

The attorney needs to implement all aspects of your operation into one plan, ensuring that all the tools implemented complement each other as they accomplish your goals. A web search of South Dakota attorneys will provide quite a list to choose from.

How do you know which attorney to choose?

For most operations, choosing an attorney that specializes in specific fields of law is one way to sort through the list, search for those with a specific interest in estate planning, probate and trust administration. Then ask for recommendations. If you have a business relationship with an attorney related to other topics ask him/her for recommendations. Also, ask individuals you respect for their opinions or experiences they have had with the attorneys they work with.

Narrow the list to two or three names you would like to interview. This initial meeting is a chance to get to know the attorney and introduce your goals (Estate Planning…More Than Taxes). When you make the appointment discuss what the fee is for the initial meeting, how much time they are allocating to you, and if there are fees for going over time, future phone calls or other expenses you may be billed for due to this first meeting.

Be prepared for the initial meeting.

Be prepared to discuss your operation and family situation and be able to discuss the goals you have for your operation and family. Bring current financial statements with you to help answer questions accurately. Also be ready with a list of questions of your own for the attorney.

Possible questions could include:

  • What percentage of your time is spent on agricultural estate plans?
  • Do you participate in continuing education courses in the field of estate planning?
  • How do you keep up with the changes in estate planning laws?
  • Will you be the one handling my plan, or will others be working on it? If yes, can I meet them?
  • Can you give me an estimate of how many agricultural based estate plans you have drafted in the past year? What size are the operations?
  • Ask about the fee structure and what it all includes and what it does not include.
  • What kinds of time frame do you anticipate? How many months? Number of meetings required?
  • Ask for references – The attorney may or may not have these due to confidentiality rules.

After your initial meetings with different attorneys, evaluate the way the attorney made you feel, were you comfortable with the individual? Did you feel like you were listened to? Your plan will be unlike anyone else"s so confidence in the attorney listening to your goals and concerns is important. Did you like the way he/she answered your questions?

Keep in mind that you can talk to other attorneys if your first visits did not go as good as you wanted. Investing time and effort into finding the right person is a huge component in following through with all the aspects of your plan. However, at the end of the day, you still need to choose one.


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