5 Things Clients Look for in Their Estate Planning Attorney
As just about every living person who owns any property at all should have an estate, the fee that you can expect as an attorney is at least $1,500. To set up hundreds or thousands of these estates could be a lucrative part of your business, should you be able to win the trust of your clients. When clients are searching for an estate planning attorney, you can be assured they're going to be discerning, knowing how important this is.
Here are five things that every client will look for in an estate planning attorney.
If you're just starting out as an estate planning attorney, this could be your biggest hurdle. When your potential clients are looking for an estate attorney, they want to know that you can deliver based on your previous experience. However, there are ways to get experience or show your knowledge in other ways.
For any attorney who has dealt with trusts or estates in any fashion, even as a paralegal, you'll have a leg up over people with no experience. The more experience you have, the more likely you'll be hired. At least three years behind estate work will be a serious leg up.
With experience, you'll also be able to know how long a project should take. While you may want to get the initial outline of the estate locked down, most estates don't need to be rushed.
If you know about the probate process and know when your client needs you to be urgent about your work, you'll be able to serve your estate clients well.
2. Good Communication
A truly great estate attorney will be a good communicator. When you're first working with a new client, you should send along planning documentation for them to review. You should be able to break down every element of the documents in simple and plain language that your client can understand.
No matter how busy you or your client are, you should emphasize the importance of going over documentation. Even if you're a skilled attorney and you're sure you've listened to your client, people miscommunicate all the time. They might have misspoken and named the wrong heir or given an old address.
Even small mistakes can turn into a headache for heirs or for clients looking to make a change years later.
As an attorney, you need to have a solid understanding of revocable living trusts and be able to carefully walk your client through these issues. Letting your clients know that their assets must be titled in their names while they're alive is a small but commonly overlooked piece of information. As the attorney, you're responsible for communicating every little thing to your clients.
3. Regular Updates
One of the biggest components of communicating is the ability to follow up or to update your clients regularly. As time passes, most clients will want to know what they could or should be updating with their estate.
You're entitled to collect a small fee for a semi-annual or annual review. Your clients should have the opportunity to opt-in or out of this program but you should always remind them. You never know what could change for one of your clients.
They could quietly get divorced from their spouse and in all of the chaos of dealing with that, forget that they need to take them out of their will.
There could be new tax laws that encourage them to allow more to cover estate taxes. There could even be assets that they're looking to sell sooner than later. Not only do you have to allow for regular updates but you should encourage your clients to give regular updates to your clients.
4. A Fair Rate
After you talk to your clients, you should be able to quote them at a fixed rate. This will leave no questions about later fees or what could be around the corner for your clients.
If you want to be fair and honest, charging by the hour isn't an option with an estate planning project. Since most estate planning goes by a sort of routine, you need to ensure your clients feel respected.
Hourly charges make clients feel uncomfortable during the initial process. It may be necessary to work hourly for later issues, like changes to the estate, but for the initial setup, there should be one single fee.
Let your clients know if they should expect to pay an hourly fee after a certain amount of work is done. The clearer you are with your clients now, the better your relationship will be in the future.
5. Services Available 24/7
You need to make yourself available to your clients whenever they need you. As they won't be calling you very often after the initial estate is set up, their calls are bound to be important.
If you're not available, you need to have trained staff who all know how to deal with the questions that your clients will have. While you won't be doing a lot of meetings with your clients, the odd call now and then should be easy to manage.
If unexpected issues arise, you'll need to keep your customers happy. If you don't have a call service set up, you should probably sign up for one now. When your clients call you at midnight because they've got a change they want to make last minute, you should at least have someone taking a note for you.
Forcing customers to leave a message on an answering machine feels cold and impersonal.
Every Estate Planning Attorney Should Hit The Marks
If you want to have a successful career as an estate planning attorney, you need to earn the trust of your clients by being there for them. The better you can meet their needs and let them know you're available to them, the more clients you'll serve. As much of this work is gotten by word of mouth, serving one client well could lead to a dozen more.
If you're a lawyer trying to ensure that you balance your life and your work, follow our guide to ensure you hit the marks.