Ep. 3: How to Choose the Right Estate Planning Attorney

Subscribe where ever you listen to Podcasts:

In this episode of Repair the Roof, Attorney Ted Gudorf talks about how to select an estate planning attorney, outlining the eight questions you should ask when hiring one, and why you should ask them.

The first thing to ask is, Are you a board-certified specialist in estate planning, trust, and probate law? The process is fairly extensive and so many attorneys aren’t certified. The second question should be, How do you charge for your services? Some charge hourly, which can quickly build up in cost, where others charge flat fees. This is important, especially as it can often be difficult to estimate how long the process will take, which leads to the question, How long does it take to put a plan in place and How many hours will this take? The next question is, What is your process? This helps clients understand what to expect. Then, ask, Do you support the estate plan by helping with retitling of the assets? Retitling of assets is often called funding, and many firms do not assist in asset alignment and funding and titling. In addition, you should ask, Will you support our family, if and when we need to go to a nursing home? Another question that should be asked is, How many of these plans have you done? This helps get an understanding of where their experience is.

Key Topics:

  • Introduction (00:05)
  • Board-certified specialist (01:40)
  • Pricing and length (04:02)
  • Timing (05:20)
  • Process (06:23)
  • Retitling of assets (07:59)
  • Support of family (10:10)
  • Experience (10:57)


Transcript: Prefer to Read — Click to Open

Hi, this is attorney Ted Gudorf. Welcome to today’s show. This is episode number three. Today we are going to talk about how to select an estate planning attorney.

You know, hiring an attorney is never fun. But I will tell you this hiring the right attorney can make all of the difference, particularly when we’re dealing with estate planning. Hiring the right attorney will assure us of having an estate plan that will work versus one that will not work. Estate planning is unique. It involves a lot of complicated issues. Most importantly, it involves everyone that you love, and everything that you own. And in terms of the law, it involves things like Wills, trusts, taxes, funding, titling insurance, real estate, law, business law, all coming together, to put together a plan that will work for you. So today, we want to talk about what are the eight key questions that you should ask somebody before you ever hire an estate planning attorney. So those eight questions I’m going to cover from top to bottom and just have a general discussion about them.

The first thing that I would ask somebody is, are you a board-certified specialist in estate planning, trust and probate law? Well, certainly hiring somebody just because they’re certified specialists doesn’t necessarily make certain that you’re going to have a plan that works. But I will tell you this, it’s the best way to make sure that that person has gone through the rigorous requirements that will get them certified so that you have at least some assurance, they’ve met the minimum requirements. You know, here in Ohio, we have over 55,000 lawyers, but only 162 of those lawyers are board certified specialist in estate planning, trust and probate law. Well, why is that? Well, first of all, in order to become a board-certified specialist here in Ohio, you have to have practiced in the estate planning area for more than five years. And during those five years, at least one half of the revenue that you generate must come from estate planning. So you have to have some significant experience number one, and number two, you have to get peer reviewed. And in other words, several of your other estate planning colleagues must be willing to vouch for your ethics, your honesty, your knowledge. And they actually have to submit that in writing to the State Bar Association, and there has to be at least five of them who are knowledgeable of your work.

In addition to that, you have to take a written examination. And you have to submit proof that you have sufficient malpractice liability insurance in place.

Most importantly, though, you also have to submit a transcript of all of the continuing education that you’ve taken, and you must agree to maintain at least 24 hours of continuing education, of which a significant amount must be in the advanced planning area. So the first question we want to ask somebody straightforward, you either are not a board certified specialist within the field. But that’s question number one.

Once we get beyond the qualifications of the person,

then let’s ask the question, how do you charge for your estate planning services? And how long does it take to put a plan in place?

Far too often, I see his situations where somebody goes in to hire an attorney, and they end up doing their planning on an hourly basis. Here at Gudorf Law Group, we do not believe in charging on an hourly basis for our planning.

Now what we try to do is, quote a flat fee in advance of doing any work. What’s the difference between the hourly approach and the flat fee approach? Well, the main difference that I see is clients are much more willing to communicate effectively with us. If they’re on a flat fee basis, if they know they’re not going to be charged, or nickel and dime for every email they send, or every phone call they make, or every meeting they attend.

Some of our plans require multiple emails, or phone calls, or more importantly, you’ll see in our process several meetings. If somebody is doing it on an hourly basis, the obvious question is, how many hours is this going to take? We think that the flat fee approach is the better approach.

Ask, how long does this process take? I can tell you that I have had clients come to me where they have communicated with an attorney. They’ve gone to see them, the attorney has promised to put together a plan for them. And the process just never seems to conclude.

here at Gudorf Law Group, because we have a defined seven step process. Our goal in virtually every instance is to make sure that the estate planning process takes no longer than 90 days. Now, having said that, some of the more advanced planning cases will take longer than that, but by far 90% of our estate plans can be completed within a 90 day window from start to finish.

The next question that I tell individuals that they ought to ask when hiring an estate planning attorney is what is your process? First, do you have a process? And what does that process look like? Here at our law firm, we have a very clearly defined seven step process.

That process necessarily includes for us. Most importantly, number one, completing the client organized. Step two is having a conversation on what your goals are. We call that the goals and responsibility conversation. Step three to our process is to take the information that you provide us with and designing your estate plan in a designing meeting. Step four is to sign the legal documents that we create for you. Step five, is to make sure we coordinate with your other advisors, perhaps your CPA, perhaps your financial adviser, Step six is having you attend an acid alignment workshop, so your plan is properly funded. And then Step seven is a clearly defined maintenance program that includes a family meeting.

That seven step process will make sure your plan gets done within the 90 day period. It’s clearly defined, not only defined for the client, and the client’s family, but also designed to make it easier on our legal team to meet our commitment to you.

The next question that I think that you should ask any estate planning attorney is, do you support the estate plan by helping with retitling of the assets retitling of assets is often called funding.

We recently designated the term asset alignment, we kind of like acid alignment a little better than funding, but they both mean the same thing. Unfortunately, this is where so many law firms fall flat on their face. Most will simply create a letter directed at the client saying just remember client, it’s your responsibility to fund everything. And we are not here to help. Our law firm takes asset alignment and funding and titling very seriously so that your plan will work.

We think so strongly of it, that we’ve set up a two hour workshop called the asset alignment workshop, and we make it mandatory for our clients to attend that workshop. And you can attend it at our office where we teach it live. And occasionally we’ll record the updated workshop and make that available to you if you need to watch it on a video. But one of the things that goes along with the workshop is our asset alignment workbook. And it provides examples of how to retitle assets, everything from your real estate, to your cars, to your bank accounts, to your brokerage accounts, how to designate beneficiaries on the life insurance and on the retirement accounts. All that deals with titling. We want to make sure that everything you own is touched and is properly titled, so that your estate plan will work when we need it to work. When does an estate plan need to work? What needs to work in the event that you become disabled or pass away? So, the titling is incredibly important.

In addition to titling, the other question you want to ask somebody is, will you support our family, if in when we need to go to a nursing home, you’ll see here at our firm, what we’ve done is created a separate department called our elder law department, which will help people make decisions relative to long term care, whether that be providing care at home, or an assisted living or a nursing home. And if it includes the need to apply for Medicaid, or

veterans benefits, our staff can assist and provide support to the family with respect to all of that. Another good question to ask an estate planning attorney is how many of these plans have you done? You know, here at Gudorf Law Group, I started our law firm in 1992.

Over 30 years ago, during that time period, we’ve done well in excess of 3000 estate plans. The bulk of our estate plans are generally dealing with individuals who have a modest size estate, say 750,000 to $5 million. That’s by a way the vast majority of our clients having said that, we do advance planning for a significant number of wealthy households here in the area,

Those households may have a net worth that exceeds $15 million, maybe it exceeds $50 million. We have experience handling those advance planning type cases, when you’re thinking about who you’re going to work with, you should work with a firm that has a full range of services.

It should include those who do estate planning and have done it for a significant period of time. Number two, it should include those who will support your family. In the event, a long term care is needed. So, they have an elder law department. But most importantly, somebody who has an estate administration department that is when you or your spouse pass away, will the law firm be there to support your family? Or is this simply a law firm like so many in the area where all they want to do is do the planning but they don’t want to do the hard work, they don’t want to address long-term care needs. If somebody has to go into a nursing home, or they don’t want to do the administration, when somebody passes away.

Gudorf Law Group is a full service law firm, we’re going to support the family throughout the entire throughout the entire process. And that necessarily includes all of the administration processes as well. So hopefully, you get an idea that these are the types of questions that we think you should ask. If you would like to have a copy of our guide on how to select an estate planning attorney, you can go to our website at www that date and estate planning law.com. And on the homepage, you can enter your name and email address and hit submit and a copy of this guide will be sent to you.

Well, thanks for being with us today. I enjoyed our conversation. I hope you found this to be useful and helpful. If you have any questions with regards to selecting an attorney, feel free to reach out to me and we will have a conversation. Have a great day.

Back to All Episodes