I have made a list of 7 questions that I feel are important for you to know about BEFORE you hire an estate planning attorney to do your will, trust, powers of attorney and whatever else you need. I am going to talk about one question here today and if you want the rest of the list please email me and I will be happy to send them to you. Just send me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
These 7 questions apply the same for people who think they only have needs for a very “basic” estate plan all the way up to people with millions of dollars. The same 7 questions apply because the complexities of the cases are not usually generated by dollar amounts but rather by personal issues. Some issues that cause complexities in the planning: second marriages, kids from different marriages, adult children who are unable to hold a job (either by their doing or by medical issues), large percentages of assets in IRAs or 401ks, and people that want to do a lot of different things with their money but just don’t have a lot. In all of these cases, and more, having a qualified estate planning is very important.
Please realize it’s really not as simple as filling out a few forms. REALLY! There are many intricacies in an estate planning “form” and most attorneys, who do not practice in this area of law regularly, will never take the time to understand all of them. Without that understanding the ramifications can be huge to you and your loved ones!
This brings me to the first question you should ask BEFORE you hire your estate planning attorney.
1) ARE YOU A CERTIFIED SPECIALIST IN ESTATE PLANNING LAW?
In California lawyers have the option to become a certified specialist in one or more areas of law. My chosen field is estate planning and probate law and thus I am a Certified Specialist in Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Law as determined by the California State Bar Board of Legal Specialization. This is specific to the State Bar of California. Do not be fooled by lesser groups or designations; there is only one State Bar of California and only one certification in estate planning, trust and probate law that they issue. What does this mean?
This means beyond the 17 years of practical experience doing estate planning law I went and took a second bar exam. It seems insane, in hindsight, as everybody knows about the horrific pass rates of the regular bar. Why on earth would one take a second bar exam? If nothing else I believe passing the certified specialist exam, for one’s chosen area of law, demonstrated they have great knowledge in their area of law. They have to or they wouldn’t pass the test.
Having said that, some people are good test takers so there is more to becoming a certified specialist than just taking a second bar exam. After I passed the bar exam (first time just like the real bar exam back in 1994) I had to establish to the State Bar that I had the requisite experience in my area of specialty. I had to have a substantial number of cases completed in each area of my field of expertise; complex trusts, probates, and related issues.
I then had to complete a large number of hours in continuing education classes. All attorneys take continuing education classes. I always greatly exceed the required minimums. However, to become (and keep) one’s certification they have to take a large number of classes, in their chosen area of law, that have specifically been pre-approved for certified specialization. Thus, the classes had to be pre-approved as advanced course of study in the areas of trust, probate and estate planning.
The last thing an attorney must do to become a certified specialist is to pass a rigorous background check of Judges and other attorneys who agree the attorney has the requisite knowledge to hold ones self out as a certified specialist.
With all of this being the case I hope you can see why this certification is so important. As stated above send me an email, at email@example.com for the other 6 questions you need to ask!