Nearly once a week I am routinely asked this question. There are many families that I work with and many families that I speak with every week who want to know what are the differences between estate planning lawyers and law firms. Is there any difference to hiring one law firm over another when it comes to implementing our estate planning documents?
I am glad that I get to answer this question and address this issue. It is a common question that deserves to be addressed by attorneys and law firms.
First, I will answer an important side question … Can I Do This Myself? Absolutely! There are plenty of do-it-yourself (DIY) tools, programs, and books you can use to create a simple will for you and your family. However, should you do it yourself? That depends. If you don’t care if your children get complete control of everything you own on the day they turn 18, then go the DIY route. However, if like many people I speak with, think that would be a disaster, then the DIY may not be the route for you and your family.
Another reason where the DIY may be appropriate is if you have a very small estate. In Tennessee, we have an option for small estates that must be administered through the probate court system. For a small estate, defined as less than $50,000 in assets and no real estate, a small estate affidavit can be filed administering the estate.
However, for the vast majority of my clients and families I speak with, I do not recommend the DIY route because the families that I speak with do not fall into these categories.
Next, what is it like doing business with your law firm and what makes you different than all the other lawyers out there?
This is a great question, and quite frankly, choosing the right lawyer is the most important aspect in creating the right estate plan for your family. Our law firm would love to represent you and your family with your estate planning needs. However, we may not be the right fit for you and your family. That’s ok with us. We want to make sure we provide the best legal service and the best value to our clients as possible.
There are law firms out there who would draft a quick will and healthcare directives for you, and maybe it will fulfill your family’s needs when the time comes. As a good rule of thumb, I caution families that I work with that are quoted less than $1,000 for a will plan and less than $3,000 for a living trust based estate plan, you should be careful as you are probably just purchasing documents and not legal representation and legal analysis of your unique situation and unique planning needs. This may be sufficient for some families. However, you should go into this fully informed on what you are receiving for your money, but you should also understand the risks in going this route and the potential pitfalls that it is leaving in your planning.
Now, I know what I’m about to say is a bit controversial. In my opinion, when you are just buying documents from attorneys and law firms under the model described above, I’m sorry to say, but I think those law firms are just “paper pushers.” As my biography and story shares with you, I worked way too hard getting into college, working for several years saving my money, and eventually going to law school, to be considered a “paper pusher. I enjoy working one-on-one and counseling clients and guiding them to the right decision when it comes to their planning with their unique circumstances.
Therefore, there are several unique aspects to doing business with our office.
Most importantly, we actually take the time to meet with and talk with our clients! Throughout the planning process we will meet with our clients three to four times. The first is the Family Legacy Planning Meeting. We meet with you for one hour to one and a half hours to discuss all your planning concerns, your unique family circumstances, and what type of legacy you wish to pass on to your loved ones and your family.
After you retain our office, we get started on the estate planning legal work. Over the next week to two weeks, we prepare draft documents to put in place the plan that we discussed during the Family Legacy Planning Meeting. The next meeting we will hold in our office is the Plan Review Meeting. This is where we sit down together, usually one hour to two hours in length, where we review the estate plan from start to finish and page by page, answer all your questions, and discuss the edits and revisions that we will be making, if necessary. We find that this meeting is an essential part of the process. After working with many clients during my career I find that many clients end up signing estate planning documents, and have no idea what they are signing. Therefore, we find that this meeting is absolutely essential to the planning process.
The third meeting is called the Legacy Signing Meeting. This is where you come back to our office and sign the estate legal documents in the presence of two witnesses and a notary (we provide those). This portion of the meeting will only last approximately thirty minutes. Following the signing meeting, we will begin the Living Trust Funding Meeting. This is where we review all of the assets that we discussed together during the Family Legacy Planning Meeting that will need to be retitled into your living trust to ensure that your plan works the way it is supposed to work. As I say time and time again, many Living Trusts fail because of a failure to fund the trust. During this part of the meeting we go over all the instructions to fund the living trust, what you will be doing, what we will be doing, and when we will be following up with you to ensure that everything has been completed to make sure the plan works right.
Finally, we will go over our annual maintenance program that many of our clients will select to ensure that they have annual update meetings, estate plan updates for free or at a reduced cost, and various other important bonuses to ensure that their plans work as the law and their life circumstances change.
However, in addition to the client process, we also have several rules in our process. First, once you schedule your Family Legacy Planning Meeting you will receive an Information Gathering Package via U.S. mail or e-mail that we will ask you to fill out and send back to us. We will ask that you return this Information Gathering Package to us no later than 3 days prior to your scheduled appointment. In addition, we will ask that you fill out your credit card information. We normally charge $400 for a Family Legacy Planning Meeting. However, this is a fee that is waived should you decided to retain our law firm to represent you and your family. However, should you fail to return the Information Gathering Package at least 3 days prior to your scheduled appointment, we will have to remove your appointment from our calendar and charge your credit card the $400.
We are committed to being fully present with our time and with our clients. Therefore, we ask the same attention out of our clients. Despite this initial inconvenience, I am sure you will be very grateful of this policy when you become a client of our law firm!
Finally, we are very different from many law firms and attorneys that you may have spoken to over the years. We intentionally and purposefully limit the number of clients that we accept in any given month or year. I understand that this is completely opposite of the way that most law firms operate (get as many clients and as much revenue in the door as possible), but that’s okay. We made a decision a long time ago that we wanted to develop meaningful and long-lasting relationships with each one of our clients. Therefore, for that reason, we limit the number of clients that we accept each month and annually.
This is how we are different in our approach to estate planning and client service. Now, we understand that we may not be a good fit for everyone and that some families may be okay with law firms that just draft documents and do not provide follow up and relationships with their clients. And, that’s okay with us. Our core philosophy is developing long-lasting relationships with each one of our clients and creating a plan and customized legal representation that will meet our clients’ needs now and in the future.
Are we a good fit? If so, please call our office at (615) 472-2482 or fill out the contact form on this page to schedule your Family Legacy Planning Meeting. We look forward to seeing you in our office soon!