Make It Last – Ep 45 – The Secret To Selecting a Really Great Estate Planning Attorney
You may only do it once or twice across your lifetime. So, what’s the secret to selecting a really great estate planning attorney? You need to focus on four areas that Victor covers in this episode of Make It Last.
Make It Last with Victor Medina is hosted by Victor J. Medina, an estate planning and elder law attorney and Certified Financial Planner™. Through his law firm and independent registered investment advisory company, Victor provides 360º Wealth Protection Strategies for individuals in or nearing retirement.
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Announcer: Welcome to “Make It Last,” helping you keep your legal ducks in a row and your nest egg secure, with your host Victor Medina, an estate planning and elder law attorney, and certified financial planner.
Victor J. Medina: Hey, everybody, welcome back to Make It Last. I am so glad you could join us this Saturday morning. I’ve got a great show for you today because people go into this situation trying to figure out what to do with an estate planning attorney, where to find one. Often, they are left to their own devices of trying to figure out exactly who to work with.
I’m going to share with you the secret to finding a really great estate planning attorney. I hope that you can take this, and help yourself get set up, make sure all your ducks are in a row.
We’re going to hit that in today’s show, but before we get started, I’m actually trying out some new equipment. Now, those of you that are listening live, or listening on the podcast, are not going to hear any difference. Same microphone, same production value, so on and so forth.
Because we’ve begun to stream this as a video show, you can watch if you wanted to.
I got a little self‑conscious about the earphones that I was using. I was using these old headphones. They were large. I thought, “Well, maybe we can come up with little something better for people to listen to,” and so we did.
We came up with these little earphones that they go directly in to my ear. I stopped looking like Princess Leia with the [inaudible 1:23] on the side of her head, which looked really odd with my closely shaven head.
Now I’ve got these little earphones on. I’m excited to try these out. It’s a new field. It’s a little weird on the recording side of it, but you should hear nothing different. By the same token, you should absolutely see something different if you like to watch again.
By the way, if you are interested in watching the show or sharing a video version of the show, we have a YouTube channel. If you go on to YouTube and search for, “Make It Last Victor Medina,” you will be able to see all of the prior episodes which weren’t really video feeds.
They were just like a static image of our audio feed. Since I think maybe about five or six episodes ago, all of those are available essentially as video broadcast and give me an opportunity to share that with a friend.
Again, YouTube, just go take a look at it. Another way of helping you navigate through this really complicated world of estate planning, legal planning, retirement planning, all the stuff that you are interested in and making sure that you’re doing well.
Anyway, before I get any more off track, [laughs] I already have, let’s talk a little bit about this concept of estate planning attorneys and how to find one.
The reason why it can be difficult is because you don’t…most people aren’t going to do this more than once or twice in their lifetime. If they’re going to go out and do an estate planning, they might do it like major milestones of their lives.
First time that they have a kid, that would be an opportunity for somebody to say, “Oh, OK. Maybe I ought to get a great estate plan together, because I’m really worried about what would happen to my kids if I died prematurely?
Or if something were to happen to me and I needed a guardian? Or maybe I don’t know how to manage the life insurance that I’m leaving behind? I want to make sure that there is a great plan in place for them.”
It’d be like a milestone where people would look at. People don’t really think about it too much for the most of the rest of their lives, until they face retirement and essentially their own mortality.
When they’re at that retirement stage, they say, “Jeez, I’m not gonna be around forever. I ought to act like an adult and make sure that this estate plan that I put together tens and tens of years ago, right, actually works when I need it.”
Let me go revisit it. For some people, it’s a very simple process, very simple set of documents.
For other people, it’s a brand new idea, because the people who they were when they were 30, 35 years old having kids and thinking about guardianship, very different than the people that they are in retirement. They’ve saved more. They have more complexity in their lives. At this point in time, it’s time to do it again.
For most people, that’s it. That’ll be the last time that they really need to look at their estate planning. That’s the way that most of the general population handles it.
I’m going talk to you a little bit today about why I think that’s probably not the right way to do things, when we think about a little bit more than that.
Just taking it terms of generality, people do it once or twice. Because people don’t do it often, like in a haircut every once a month, it’s very difficult to judge what great estate planning looks like and specifically, what great estate planners look like, great estate planning attorneys.
People will rely on outside information to make that decision. They might look at referrals that they can get from their financial advisor or from their accountant or from their friends, people like them.
They’ll judge it based on a reputation in the community. Is this a lawyer that they should reach out to, because other people have reached out to them? Just generally like the two. Word of mouth, they’re out in the community, they’re involved in civic things, things like that.
They’ll use that as the basis to making the decision. Because people don’t do it often, partly because they don’t do it often and so they’re not regularly interacting it, but also because they don’t do it often and they can’t judge what great planning looks like. Many people are lost in trying to figure out what that is. More importantly, they can’t diagnose it after the fact.
Estate planning by its definition only comes into play when you become incapacitated or when you pass away. In both of those circumstances, you are not going to have the first clue, what great estate planning, if it worked or not. What was it? It’s only based on your family living through that.
I’ll tell you that many times, we will get new clients from the messes that we are cleaning up on other clients that didn’t have great estate planning. It becomes important to realize what that all looks like when it’s put together so that you can proactively take control and essentially make the best decisions in putting an estate plan together.
I’ve got four major categories for you to take a look at and am also going to dive a little bit deeper into each of those four categories. We are going to stretch this out a little bit in the show. We are going to spend next segment talking about two of them, and the segment after that talking about two more of them.
That way if you listen in and take some notes and appreciate what we are trying to share here, you’ll be able to walk away with a hard core set of questions to ask and things to check out to make sure that the state planning attorney that you are going to be working with is really top notch, is really going to get you a plan that works when you need it.
I’m going to be borrowing liberally from my own book. In my book, I’ve got chapters about how to select a great estate planning attorney. What mistakes to avoid?
You’ll get a little bit preview of that. I’m not going to share everything in the book but these are things that I’ve already thought about and things that are…in my opinion, over my career of doing this, super important for folks to pay attention to.
Victor: You, listening to this show, watching this show, are going to get a great look at that and a preview of what might else be maybe in the [inaudible 7:44] . I don’t know. Anyway, stick with us, we’ll be right back on Make It Last where we’re talking about how to select a great estate planning attorney. We’ll be right back.
Victor: Welcome back to Make It Last. Today, we are talking about how to select a great estate planning attorney.
When I talk about this topic, people will say to me, “Aren’t you kind of setting this all up so that everybody just hires you at the end?” Look, yeah, kind of. We think that we are the best estate planning firm out there based on the way that we do it.
Here is the trick. We really can’t serve all of the people that need estate planning. There are tons and tons of people who need planning and only one of us. We take a limited number of clients in per month so that we can serve them really well. Even if everybody listened to this and called us, we would not be able to help everybody that’s there.
We’d be taking the first clients as they come in. If you listen to this and you decide that you would like to work with our law firm, certainly you can contact us and see if you can get in, have a part of our client base. Because we can’t help everybody, even in the course of my entire career, I am not going to be able to help the number of people that need the help.
It’s pretty easy to share this information and really arm the listener’s ear to what makes up great planning so that when they’re in a situation where maybe they are not working with us, or not having an opportunity to work with us, that they, in fact, have a way of making sure that they’re working with somebody great. That’s really the point of it.
I mentioned before the break that we’re going to be talking about four different areas that we think are important in selecting a great planner. We’re going to go deep on those. Let me give you the four areas. We’ll talk about the first two in this segment. We’ll pass off the next two to the next segment.
The four areas that I think you need to focus on are their qualifications, their process, what they feel about or provide in terms of an ongoing relationship or education, and then finally, their cost and their guarantees. I put those in those order in the book as well as in the show, because many people mistakenly put costs first.
When we get to that discussion, I’ll help you understand that the cost of estate planning is never just the upfront cost. It is a spectrum of costs that are associated with estate planning. You need to know about all of them. You need to really understand what all of those costs are so that when you are there, you can properly assess what the costs are.
We’re going to leave that one for the last. Let’s first talk about the qualifications. When we think about qualifications, there are a few things that are essential. First is that somebody be dedicated exclusively to the area of estate planning.
Too often, estate planning looks like an additional service that you provide as a general practitioner. If you do home closings or if you fight traffic tickets or if you argue with your neighbor about where the fence should be, then you can also write a will.
The reason why people accept that and why lawyers attempt to do it that way is because bad estate planning is essentially form filling. That’s the wrong way to do it. Because people accept that that might be the way that it’s done, or because practitioners accept that that’s the way that it’s done, people see that as being an indication of just what average estate planning looks like, normal estate planning looks like.
It couldn’t be further from the truth, because unlike a scenario where you can be there to guide whether or not the planning is working when you need it, in estate planning, as we mentioned, by definition, you have no idea whether or not the plan worked. You’re incapacitated. You’ve passed away. You don’t know.
One of the things you want to make sure is that your estate plan is being done by somebody who focuses exclusively in this area. You want to make sure that this is their sole source of business when they do their legal services, because it will indicate that they are immersing themselves in this area so that they can see all of the different kinds of plans, when they go right and when they go wrong.
They can see the entire spectrum of planning from when you began to when you need your planning. We want to think about within those qualifications, making sure that people are focusing exclusively in estate planning.
I would probably take it one level beyond that, which is that estate planning, when you focus just in estate planning, many times you’re a tax planner. You might want to find somebody that focuses on elder law planning and then does estate planning as well. It’s traditional estate planning.
The reason why I think that the elder law is an important distinction is because it makes sure that they’re dealing with the living consequences of what happens just as you get older. If you just focus on estate planning, you’re going to do great tax planning.
If you focus on elder law planning, you’re going to meet real people right where they are, in the crises that come up from time to time in helping them manage that.
The elder law person is focusing on how to deal with a spouse that’s coming up with dementia. When you meet somebody, you might not know whether or not that’s going to happen, but you want to put a plan in place in case it does. You want to be thinking about it proactively so that when you’re in that situation, the plan already contemplates the idea that this might happen.
That’s a good distinction in terms of figuring out where to put estate planning in how to figure out who’s going to be great. If you focus on the elder law component, many times, people who are focusing exclusively on elder law know what it’s like to actually use a plan when it comes up. You can ask questions that are related to that like, “How many plans do you do a year?”
In my firm, we do somewhere between 150 and 200 plans a year. On the one hand, that’s a number that is enough to see all kinds of circumstances. On the other hand, it’s small enough that we know each of our clients.
We’re not doing thousands of plans, at least not in what we see. Looking at what they focus on and how many plans they do is definitely a way to check their qualifications.
Victor: The next thing that we want to talk about or think about is their process. I’ve actually run a little long on this segment, warming up to it. Let’s do this. Let’s take a break here. What we’ll do is when we come back, we’ll hit the last three.
We’ll hit the process, the ongoing relationship, and the costs and the guarantees. That way, you have all of those four things that are important when you focus on getting a really great estate planning attorney.
We’ll be right back on Make It Last, where we’re talking about estate planning and figuring out a great estate planning attorney. Stick with us.
Victor: Welcome back to Make it Last. We’re talking about how to get a great estate planning attorney. Last segment, we talked about their qualifications. You’ll know I really didn’t focus a lot on where did they get their law degree from, because that stuff I don’t think is super‑important.
There can be designations that people get. If you, as a general consumer, just focus on how many plans they do a year and whether or not they focus on estate planning, and elder law specifically, you’ll get a good idea about whether or not they have the qualifications to handle your plans.
Let’s focus on the three other things, which is their process, their attitude towards an ongoing relationship, and their costs and their guarantees.
What you want in a great estate planning attorney is a process where they are capturing the unique part of what you need in your plan, and their process is built to make sure that nothing slips through the cracks.
The reason why I’m focusing on this is that you don’t want to meet with somebody that doesn’t have a process in place to ask you the questions to solicit where the holes might be. If you meet with somebody and all they’re doing is asking you for names and percentages, then you’re working with somebody that’s a form‑filler.
That person is just basically putting your name where somebody else’s name was, and that’s not great. We want to find somebody that is not making something from whole cloth every single time.
There’s a process that’s in there that has been well thought through, that is about making sure that we’ve captured everything, and that nothing slips through the cracks. We don’t want it so rote that all we’re doing is what a computer could do to fill it out.
It has the benefit of having somebody that is thinking about it strategically, that can capture that. Within that process, you want to think about how long does it take? How many meetings are set up? Are those meetings set up already?
What percentage of your plans are customized to a client, besides the names and the distributions? What systems do you use to make sure that your plans are error free? In our practice, we have a four‑meeting process.
That four‑meeting process was designed around making sure that we have, first, educated a client to make a great decision about what to do with their estate planning, then meeting again to set the strategy, and capture the information so that we can make a customized plan.
The next meeting is signing a plan to make sure the client understands that next meeting is integrating the finances so that we figure out that this castle that we’ve built has got the right stuff in it. That four‑meeting process has been arrived over in my 15‑year career.
We’re seeing what works and what doesn’t, and making sure that we have given enough opportunity for customization, without necessarily losing the benefits of having a process that is repeatable. That it’s something that people can rely on, and knowing that it arrives in an error‑free set of documents.
That’s our process. You want to be making sure that somebody’s got a process, and then determine whether or not you think that that process really sets them up to be successful. I think that even having a process probably distinguishes most planners from others.
If you have somebody that you meet with and you don’t know exactly when you’re going to be done with your plan, that’s an indication that maybe this person doesn’t do it often enough, where they don’t have a process that helps them get an error‑free set of documents.
When you sign up with our planning, you know exactly when those four meetings are. You can predict with certainty when your plan will be done. We can predict when we will get done and have a plan perfect, because again, this is part of a process that we have designed and refined over the years.
Now when you get to the other parts of the planning, specifically like ongoing relationship and cost and guarantees, a lot of that dovetails back into the process.
For us, we maintain a client maintenance program where we’re seeing people regularly to make sure that the plan that we put in place, whatever year, 2018, is still as good in the year 2020, when we’re out there.
We do that in a cost effective way. The process that sets up the planning dovetails into a process for updating and maintaining the plan. We really focus on this idea of constant improvement on the plan.
We always want to be in updating mode to make sure that it is tweaked and really refined, to make sure that any changes in the tax laws, any changes in the state of the art planning, like what is good planning, have all captured, not just for the newest clients, but for the clients that have been with us the longest.
That part of the ongoing relationship is very important to us, because it makes sure that we stand behind the plans that work when we need them. Education is built into that. We do quarterly education seminars. Every other week, we send out a newsletter with something in it.
We believe that the show is a form of our ongoing education of what we’re doing with our clients. Some of our best listeners out there are our existing client base. We want to make sure that those ongoing relationships are complementary to what people need.
One of the biggest one of those is offering financial services. Making sure that people ‑‑ whether it’s their investment and insurance needs, financial planning, whatever it is ‑‑ we can be service at the place that put their plan together in a way that has all of the stuff that we’ve been talking on the show over its history.
Fiduciary level of attention to what a client needs, best in class and everything that we’re picking out. All of those things, I think, are related together into this ongoing relationship. When you go to the cost and guarantees, you see, at least in our firm, a continuation of that.
The four costs of estate planning, very quickly, are the upfront costs, the cost of the asset integration ‑‑ you’re making sure that you’ve captured everything, basically, making sure that you’ve gotten your hands around everything ‑‑ the cost of updating.
The back‑end cost of estate administration, what you do after you pass away. If you jumble all of those together, those are the costs of estate planning. Most people don’t ask about the other three. They only ask about the upfront costs.
Within our firm, our process is designed in a way that basically makes it so that we can go all the way through, from beginning to the end, at the lowest overall cost.
When we talk about costs and guarantees, something that’s a guarantee in our office is that if you are a client maintenance member, which is to say that you’ve got an updated plan all along the way, we cap our estate administration fees at one percent of the value of the estate.
We bill hourly. In case it’s less than one percent, we charge the lower amount. Once we get to one percent, we stop billing. It’s not just like giving a freebie out to the clients, like loss‑leader. No, that’s a profitable area for us to do.
The reason why we’re able to do that is because we are getting everything set up ahead of time so that when you pass away, the estate administration is a set up process. It’s already ready to go.
That kind of guarantee is only available because we started with the right process in the beginning, did the ongoing relationship and the maintenance to make sure the plan worked when we needed it, and then we’re able to cap those costs on the end.
You’re going to want to talk to anybody that you meet to try to figure out, how do they price? Do they price on the basis of flat fee, percentage of the estate, do they go hourly? How do they price updates to the plan? Do you start over from the beginning?
Do they favor amendments versus restatements of the plan, and doing everything over new? How will your estate be charged when you pass away? In our office, we do a flat fee upfront. We offer a flat fee for maintenance, and that flat fee is usually 10 percent of the overall value of the cost of the planning.
It provides a brand new plan every year. We charge a couple hundred dollars or so for our client maintenance program on an annual basis, and people get a brand new plan every year for that. We’re able to offer that in a cost effective way because of the way that we’ve set up the other planning.
The process in the beginning sets up the maintenance, and then obviously, it sets up the back‑end costs. You’re going to want to talk to somebody about all three of those costs.
In our entire system, our entire strategy and structure around a relationship is about making sure that we’ve brought people into our client family. Deal with them as family for the length of their life ‑‑ what they have with us ‑‑ so that when we need this plan, we are in a position to use the best plan possible, that it works when we need it.
Everything is centered and designed around that. Everything is centered and designed around bringing peace of mind to somebody so that when they face one of these crises…they’re either going to die, or they’re going to get sick, or both.
When they face that, their families are in a position to reap the benefits of their good planning, by making things straightforward, making things efficient, making it easy to go through this. Not having to add a layer of the complexity of dealing with an estate, on top of, essentially, all of the complexities of dealing with grief and the other health crises that can come.
If we can position ourselves to do that with somebody, really set ourselves up to get them in a position where their plan works when they need it, now we know that the plan will work. That’s where our greatest level of service is.
Just to recap before we wrap up, remember, we’ve got four areas for you to use to evaluate whether or not you’re going to be working with a great estate planning attorney. You’re going to want to look at their qualifications, which is essentially, do they focus on estate planning specifically and elder law?
How many plans a year do they do? You’re going to look at their process. Within their process, is it a process that allows them to set up the most customization with the least chance of error? Has this been thought through?
We’ve got our ongoing relationship. How many of your areas of your life are they capturing in what they have with their planning, and are they doing things to make sure that you’re up‑to‑date with the changes along the way?
Finally, cost and guarantees. What is it up front, what is it to maintain, what is it on the backend, and how are you making sure that everything is at the lowest overall cost? I hope that that helps you out when you’re in this area.
If this is a show that you’ve liked, please, please, please, share this show with other people. You can send them the show link. You can have them subscribe to the podcast. We’re available on Spotify. You can go to our YouTube channel and watch the video, and you can share that with them as well.
If you got any ideas for any show tips and topics, just send them along the way. Otherwise, I’m going to be back. Coming up in the next few weeks, we’re going to some few guests ‑‑ I’m really excited about them ‑‑ people doing innovative stuff in this area.
I’m going to share with you people that are capturing people’s stories. Someone who’s in charge of the activity center of an assisted living facility, and bringing new ideas to that. I’m really excited to show you that one as well.
Those will be coming up in the next upcoming weeks.
Victor: Until then, thank you for joining us on Make It Last where we help you keep your legal ducks in a row and your financial nest egg secure. Catch you next Saturday. Bye‑bye.
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