PB Law Blog... Trusts and Stuff

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

The Three Types of Lawyers to Consider for Your Estate Planning

Contrary to popular belief, all lawyers do not specialize in all areas of law!  When it comes to estate planning, it is important to understand how "specialized" your legal representation is when handling your legacy.  This week, I have broken down three types of representation common to the estate planning arena.

#1 - “Jack of All Trades” Lawyer:

The “Jack of All Trades” lawyer is a modern-day equivalent of the “small town lawyer” or general practitioner. Maybe they do some estate planning, but it's not their primary practice area- they also take on personal injury cases, or DUIs, divorce cases, bankruptcy filings, landlord/tenant disputes, etc., etc.

In the past, many amazing attorneys were general practitioners. However, the law has grown & multiplied exponentially in the last few generations, with every new published case and the passage of each piece of new legislation.

The problem: They don’t know what they don’t know! They can’t possibly be familiar with all of the intricacies involved in comprehensive estate planning, because they also do litigation and family law and real estate and bankruptcy.

Their “estate plan” might be a packet of forms they copied from their old firm’s database (Apologies to all the litigation attorneys reading this, but you guys are notorious for thinking estate planning is just plugging names into a Word document!).

The “Jack of All Trades” lawyer can’t keep up on changes to the law for 8 different practice areas, so he offers a wide-- but shallow -- knowledge base. The law is far too vast these days for any one lawyer to have the proper level of experience on several different areas of the law- there's no such thing as a (good) "general practice" attorney in today's legal environment.

#2: The Trust Mill:

The “Trust Mill” law firm’s business model is based on attracting LOTS of clients by advertising (very) low prices, such as $90 wills or $899 trust packages. This firm provides very basic guidance & drafts cookie-cutter forms & documents.

The Trust Mill’s business model is based on super-high client volume- due to their low prices, they inevitably must “churn & burn” & keep a revolving stream of new clients coming through the door to keep the lights on!

The problem: Although the Trust Mill might get documents drafted & signed, they won't be able to spend the time with you to ensure the your assets are properly transferred into your trust, are owned the right way for maximum tax savings/asset protection purposes, or ensure that the your plan remains relevant & updated over time. The lawyer isn’t a “bad lawyer” per se, but rather their business model forces them to move onto the next client as quickly as possible.

If a lawyer can tell you exactly what your estate plan would cost over email or the phone, without a comprehensive, detailed analysis of your estate and your specific family situation/goals- beware- they are a Trust Mill!

If you’re looking for the cheapest estate planning lawyer possible, you might as well just do it yourself online, because you’re simply paying for documents- not a strategy or a relationship.

If you go with the Trust Mill, you basically end up paying attorney prices for LegalZoom-level service.

#3: The Goldilocks* of Estate Planners:

A truly great estate planning attorney does just that- estate planning- they've dedicated their practice to this specific area of the law. The Goldilocks of estate planning attorneys won’t be able to give you a quote straight away over the phone, because she needs to spend time getting to know you & gathering specific information about your estate and your goals. Only once she gains that knowledge will she be able to create a custom-tailored plan to meet your individual family, business, financial, and long-term goals and objectives.

Goldilocks wants you to feel confident that your plan will be effective and work the way it’s supposed to. Accordingly, she’ll work with you and your other advisers (financial/tax advisers and bankers) to assist you in transferring assets into their proper place per your customized plan design.

Goldilocks has built a practice to provide individualized, attentive service to the client and their family--- not just when they’re forming their plan, but throughout the years. She will know who you are when you call their office, remember your kids’ names, and will, most importantly, dedicate the time and energy to constantly expanding her estate planning knowledge for your benefit.

Unlike the Trust Mill, Goldilocks will be there for your family to guide them during a crisis, serving as a trusted advisor who knows & understands the family dynamic and your goals. This relationship is the key component to a great estate plan.

Goldilocks will necessarily be more expensive, due to the time dedicated to each individual client- since this business model is based on quality over quantity, she will take on fewer clients in order to maintain her high standards of service. Goldilocks will stay engaged with you, meet with you after your plan is in place to ensure it is up to date and reflects your wishes.

I hope you enjoyed this- as always, please contact us if you have any comments, questions, or if you want to learn more about the estate planning process!

*Author’s Note:  This metaphor was used despite of, not because of, my hair color.

-by Tiffany Ballenger Floyd, Esq. (Nevada Estate Planning Attorney), © 2019, Phillips Ballenger, PLLC

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