Can just any attorney prepare a living trust plan?
Any attorney can legally prepare estate planning documents, including living trust-centered plans. However, few attorneys graduate from university with much knowledge or background in trusts or estate planning. Most graduates would agree that they need practical experience and guidance from a senior attorney prior to tackling any but the most basic of estate plans.
A generalization that holds much truth is that those attorneys who have dedicated themselves to continuing education and practices concentrated on estate planning generally possess the requisite skills to accomplish better-than-journeyman estate planning.
People are put at risk because of flawed documents created by the ineptitude of untrained attorneys.
Are there established standards of practice for qualified estate planning attorneys?
Unfortunately, there are no national standards of practice for estate planning attorneys such as those required for patent attorneys, who must take and pass a written exam in order to hold themselves out to the public as patent attorneys. A few universities offer master of law in estate planning degrees, and others offer taxation diplomas. However, they are currently the exception rather the rule.
What should I look for in an attorney who is reasonably qualified to plan my estate?
The following are some of the characteristics that a qualified estate planning attorney will possess:
- An attitude that puts the clients well-being ahead of everything else
- A good reputation for the highest levels of honesty, integrity, and ethics
- Discipline and diligence in staying legally current through constant study, research, reading, and interaction with other specialized members of the profession
- Organized methods and technological systems which will allow him or her to provide superior legal services and documents in a timely manner
- The ability to freely acknowledge when a matter is beyond his or her experience or expertise
- Relationships that will enable him or her to enlist the aid of specialized colleagues or advisors in situations that call for that expertise
- A number of clients who are pleased with his or her legal services.
What are some specific standard practices that qualified estate planning attorneys use?
- Qualified estate planning attorneys are willing to discuss fees openly and reach an agreement before beginning work.
- They offer and adhere to a reasonable turnaround time for the preparation of the clients’ estate plans. (Unless your situation is unusually complex, the drafting of your plan should be accomplished within 2-6 weeks.)
- They create efficiency for their clients by using state-of-the-art automation.
- They discuss the pros and cons of the various estate planning tools, yet let the clients make the decision as to what strategies or solutions are best for them.
- They focus on the clients’ goals, desires, fears, and expectations rather than their own.
What is one of the most important skills required of an estate planning attorney?
The ability to listen and question effectively, which is how an attorney:
- Determines your objectives, desires, dreams, concerns, and fears
- Learns about your family situation, assets, and special needs
An attorney who listens carefully can make an accurate diagnosis of your estate planning needs by fully understanding your situation, goals, and objectives. An attorney who listens poorly and misdiagnosis your situation can do great harm to you and your family.
DR MERVIN MESSIAS
JD (Juris Doctor) / BA, LLB (Wits) / TEP (Trust & Estate Practitioner) / MTP (Master Tax Practitioner – S.A)