how to choose estate planning attorney

How to Choose an Excellent Estate Planning Attorney

A recent survey on estate planning showed that 53% of respondents said it’s difficult to find an advisor they trust. We understand how hard it is to choose an estate planning attorney. After years of working with many, many clients, we feel pretty good about knowing what makes a plan work and what doesn’t. We’ve also developed some ideas about what makes an effective estate planning attorney. We’ve carefully designed our unique process to overcome common pitfalls that can cause problems with more traditional estate planning firms.

5 Things to Consider as You Choose an Estate Planning Attorney

Here are 5 things we think your estate planning firm must have in order to help you create a plan that fits perfectly with you and your unique set of circumstances:

  1. Strong ongoing attorney/client relationship. Personal relationships that last for years help us to better serve your needs and the needs of your family. If the law firm that drew up your will seems disinterested in you, then you might need to look somewhere else.
  2. Knowledgeable law firm staff. Compassionate staff who can assist clients with asset titling and other vital planning questions are the foundation of our firm. Their passion is helping you! If you dread dealing with the staff at your estate planning firm, then you might need to look somewhere else.
  3. Technology. It takes cutting edge technology to maintain accuracy these days, even in the most customized plans. Our innovative use of technology allows cost-effective future updating of legal documents. That means more accurate information for you, right when you need it. If your estate planning firm is still using cut and paste to draft your will or trust, then you might need to look somewhere else.
  4. Constant education. Education is the foundation of knowledge and power. We are committed to continually educating our staff, clients, potential clients and the community through newsletters, workshops, free reports/workbooks, speaking engagements, etc. In addition, our attorneys attend multiple continuing education conferences every year. If your estate planning firm wants you to blindly trust them, then you might need to look elsewhere.
  5. Complete implementation. We see your plan through to the very end. We don’t just create a will, we create an entire estate plan, which includes asset titling, help with beneficiary designations, updating of legal documents and educating family members along the way. It is our passion and our promise to be with your family at every step. If your estate planning firm hands over a document and that’s the end of it, you might want to look somewhere else.

What Should You Do Next?

There are so many reasons to put off estate planning. Don’t lose momentum now! Take what you’ve learned from this post, and take your next step:

Attend a free workshop to learn more about proper planning. Our introduction to estate planning workshop is a great first step. It’s free. It’s only 1.5 hours, and you’ll never be on the receiving end of a hard sell – just good information so you can make informed choices. Click here for upcoming dates.

(Video) What is an elder law attorney?

As people live longer and longer, it is more and more important to have an experienced elder law attorney on your side. If you have a loved one who is aging, or are concerned about the issues of aging for yourself or a spouse, please read on to find out what elder law attorneys do and how to choose a good one…

Elder law attorneys work with families to solve problems related to aging. They meet with, and help, clients reach goals related to finances and healthcare. They often collaborate with other professionals such as financial advisors, life insurance professionals and tax professionals to ensure an effective comprehensive plan for clients.

In addition to general estate planning, elder law attorneys should have expertise in helping plan for incapacity (due to things like a stroke) or long-term care needs. When it comes to long-term care planning, elder law attorneys coordinate private and public resources to ensure the client’s right to quality care.

Founding attorney, David Edwards, explains a little about elder law attorneys in the short video above.

How do you choose a good elder law attorney?

Because elder law is a specialized field, it is important to ask some specific questions of any elder law attorney you are considering working with. It is important that you feel you can trust the attorney and his/her staff, otherwise you may not end up with effective solutions for your goals.

5 Questions to Ask an Elder Law Attorney

  1. How many Medicaid applications have you processed? Was the firm able to protect assets in most of these cases? Have you ever been turned down for an application?
  2. Are you accredited with the VA? As with many government programs, there are fairly strict standards that protect citizens from those looking to take advantage of seniors or Veterans. In order to be involved with a VA application, an attorney must be accredited by the VA.
  3. Have you done VA apps for in-home care, assisted living and nursing home care? Each one is slightly different. Experience matters when it comes to the type of app your family might need.
  4. Do you have staff solely focused on helping families with long-term care issues? Helping families apply for public programs to offset the skyrocketing costs of long-term care is a very involved process. It’s probably no surprise that the bureaucracy of the process can be overwhelming (and tricky) for those who are not experienced with it. Mistakes during the process are very costly – emotionally and financially.
  5. Does the firm have free information to help families get started? This is a big decision.  Like we said above, you must be sure you can trust the attorney you choose to work with. Taking advantage of free educational materials or free workshops is a great way to get to know the attorney. It’s also important to get to know his staff along with the general feel and philosophy of the firm. Not every family is a good fit for every attorney. It is a very personal decision.

You can read more about choosing an elder law attorney at the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys’ website. Or, be sure to take a look at these additional articles on our website:

7 Ways Elder Law Attorneys Can Help if Your Loved One is Already in a Nursing Facility

9 Ways Elder Law Attorneys Can Help With In-home Care

How much is that estate plan in the window?

Asking how much an estate plan will cost is one of the last questions you should be asking when considering an estate plan.

As an estate planning attorney, I often get asked the question, “Well, how much does it cost?”

But we can’t answer that question without understanding more about the situation, and explaining more about our process. Why is that?

If you called a contractor and said, “I want to build a house. How much will it cost?” What would the contractor say? Probably something about how it depends on what kind of house. In the same way, the cost of an estate plan depends on the type of plan and the goals you are trying to accomplish.

What if you called a car dealership and said, “I need a car. What will it cost?” They would probably ask what kind of car you are looking for.

Just like there are many types of houses and cars, estate plans are varied as well, because every family has different issues, goals, concerns, wealth levels, etc.

I understand that you do need to know the cost before making a decision (and we make sure all of our clients clearly know the cost before moving forward), but before you worry about the cost, you should ask some questions of the attorney first.

Here are 12 questions you should ask an estate planning attorney before you start to think about cost:

1) Do you regularly deal with estate planning? What other areas of practice do you have?

2) How do you define estate planning? What is your counseling philosophy?

3) How do you use technology to create customized wills and trusts?

4) Do you have a system in place to insure that each client is approached on an individual basis with their unique needs being addressed?

5) How can I be sure my plan will work the way I expect it to after I’m gone?

6) Are you capable of supporting my choices in conversations with aging parents or adult children and grandchildren, if I need it or want it?

7) How will you coordinate my assets and finances with my legal plan?

8) Will you work closely with my other advisors? (Such as financial advisors, accountant, etc.)

9) How will I keep my estate plan up to date? Is it up to me to call you when I think I need to make changes, or do you have a system to help me stay current?

10) What is your record with regard to probate? What percentage of your trust-based plans wind up in probate (court)?

11) What happens if something happens to you?

12) Do you have experienced staff to help with my planning? (The staff will be key in your dealings with the firm, so you want them to be as top-notch as the attorney.)

If you’re dealing with a top-notch professional – one who provides quality, custom services to each and every client, and one who values integrity above all else – then they cannot give you an honest answer about how an estate plan will cost without a thorough assessment of your unique circumstances.

This is why, at Edwards Group, we encourage anyone considering working with us to attend our free monthly seminar on estate planning – Intro to Edwards Group: Wills and Trusts Orientation. Not everyone is a good fit to work with us. We tend to do things differently around here, and we want to be sure you are comfortable with all aspects of planning before moving forward. The more you trust us, the better job we can do protecting you and your family.

An Exclusive Look at Dave’s Office

Daves Desk smallMost clients never see what you’re getting to see here – me in my office! That may seem strange, but clients don’t get to come in here because there is too much confidential information that I’m working on. If you look closely, you can even see client files turned over so you can’t see the names!

Here is a guided tour of what you see in the photo:

1. Glass box on the front of the desk. It says “AMB” which is my granddad, Arthur Bitzer. You may have heard me talk about him because he had really great stories, and we’re a lot alike. He owned a Dodge dealership in Salem and used to keep this box on his desk.

2. Illini lamp. (Back left.) Many of you know by now I’m a proud Illini. I-L-L!

3. Dilbert calendar. To the right of my phone, you’ll see a Dilbert calendar, which my wife Michelle gives me every Christmas.

4. Homemade calendars. On the shelf above my head you’ll see two homemade calendars with family photos that Michelle made.

5. Grade school lunchbox. Top left on the top of the shelf you’ll see my post office lunch box that I took to school growing up in Taylorville.

6. 1982 World Series Coke bottle. On the top right side of the top of the bookshelf (right next to the Fred Bird bobblehead!), you’ll see a 1982 Cardinals’ World Series Coke bottle.

7. 90-day goals. To the left of the Illini lamp on the wall, you’ll see my 90-day goals for the office. Four times a year I go to Orlando to meet with a business coach and 30 other estate planning attorneys from around the country. During that time we all share ideas and set goals for how we can better serve our clients.

8. Phone headset. Underneath the lamp is my phone headset. I use it when I’m on the phone so I can type or write notes.

9. Baseball calendar. On the front of the desk next to my grandfather’s glass box is my baseball calendar given to me by my brother, Jay, for Christmas years ago.

10. Glass of water. To the left of the Illini lamp, you’ll see my water with a brightly colored band around it. Bailey made this for me with her Rainbow Loom, which was all the rage in 1st grade.

11. Lamp. The lamp on the front of my desk has been with me since my first job out of law school with an Illinois Supreme Court judge in Peoria. The night before this picture was taken, the whole family made a special trip to Lowe’s to replace the old lampshade that was looking pretty ragged after being dropped over the years.

12. Photos from family vacation spot. On the wall on the back right are 2 photos taken in Waters, Michigan. The photo on the left was taken when I was 11 years old, at the dock house where we went every summer during my childhood. The photo on the right was taken in the same location in 2008 when our family went back to visit the area.

13. “I Love You” sign. On the bottom right of the photo on the floor there is a sign that Bailey made me. It says, “Daddy I Love You.” Bailey and Cole both love coming to my office, and I love having them here. Do you remember when Bailey made signs for all the office staff?

I think your office says a lot about who you are and what you value. I hope this sneak peak into my office shows you that things we value as an organization at Edwards Group are the same things I value as a person:

Family, history, traditions, memories, humor and hard work.

All of these things are the reason we do what we do on a daily basis. And they’re the reason we are driven to do it better than anyone else. Every family is special and unique. Every family deserves an effective plan to address and protect their unique needs.

If you’d like to read more about our one-of-a-kind process, and how it protects our clients and their loved ones, click here. If you’d like to learn more in person, call 217-726-9200 to save a spot at one of our upcoming workshops. To learn more about our free workshop offerings, click here.

Get comfortable — no high-pressure sales tactics here

I remember a phone call I had with a company who sells software to law firms. Their product seemed like something that might be helpful, and I was interested to learn more. I spent an hour on the phone with this guy and things looked good — until the salesman ruined it.

In the last 5 minutes he got really pushy. I told him to give us a couple weeks to think about how this would fit with our firm and then check back with us. But he wouldn’t let it go. I’m sure he was following some sales training tactics he had been taught. Those tactics completely backfired.

I don’t want to be pushed into something I’m not sure about. I like to have time to think things over before I spend money. And I think most everybody feels that same way.

Nobody wants to be pressured into buying something they don’t really want or need.

And that’s one thing you’ll find about Edwards Group if you get to know us — I’m not a very “good” salesman. And I don’t want to be.

Why?

Because I don’t really want to sell you anything. What I want to do is educate you about the ways we can help your family.

We do things a little differently around here. Not everyone is a good fit to work with our firm. That’s why we focus so much of our attention and effort on making sure you’re educated about your options and the way things work before any payment is ever exchanged.

Because I’m not a good salesman, you don’t have to worry about being put in an uncomfortable situation or being coerced into agreeing to something that isn’t a good fit for your family.

Because I’m not a good salesman, you can be sure that if you decide to work with us, we’ll form a great team who can work together to protect your family.

And because of that, you don’t have to worry about wasting your hard-earned money on a plan that doesn’t fit your family or was designed with another family in mind. Each of our plans are designed in collaboration with you, with the unique needs of your family as the guiding force in the process.

We understand that meeting with a lawyer can be intimidating. That’s another part of the reason we’ve designed our process the way we have. We don’t mind if you take a little time to get to know us first.

Our free, no pressure workshops are a great way to learn more about the planning needs your family may have. They are also a great way to get to know our firm better. If, after attending a workshop, you would like to take the next step, you will receive $200 off your initial meeting fee.

Not ready to talk to a person yet? We have put a lot of our time into developing a website that contains helpful information about all aspects of planning. You’ll find hundreds of articles about estate planning, trusts, Veterans benefits, Medicaid and Medicare on our website. Feel free to use the search button to quickly get to what you need.

No matter what, I hope that you will take the time to learn about ways to protect your family and your assets. The other side of our practice involves helping people who didn’t plan properly clean up the mess that’s left behind. My sincere desire would be for every family to have effective planning strategies in place and for no family to have to experience the effects of bad planning. Take a step in the right direction today by attending a workshop, giving us a call, or signing up for our weekly email newsletter.

Career Day and Types of Attorneys

“There are two other attorneys here at the career fair. Do you know what the difference is between me and them? They have to wear suits!”

A few months ago I went to my nephew’s middle school for the career fair. I talked to 5 different groups of students about how I am the “other” kind of attorney. Most people, when they think of lawyers, think of the lawyers they see on TV — always in court suing people or defending criminals. I told the kids those attorneys are what we call litigation attorneys.

And I’m not that kind. I asked the students, “What other kinds of attorneys are there?” All I got were blank looks. But yes, there is another kind!

Some people call them “transactional” attorneys. These are the ones who deal with Wills, Trusts, estates, nursing home planning, contracts, real estate and business. This is the type of thing we do here at Edwards Group, so you won’t usually see me in a suit and tie. I don’t go to court very often.

And you know what? Good work by us “OTHER” attorneys means that a family is less likely to need a court-going attorney later on. That’s why it’s so important to make sure you have a thorough and knowledgable estate planning attorney now. It saves a lot of heartache and money later…

Guess What Was on the Front Seat? A Lesson in Security

Elisa, who helps with our newsletters and marketing, saw something interesting recently. I asked her to share it with you. Read on to find out what she saw:

Protecting Your Info

I was at Jimmy John’s in Bloomington a while back, on my way to visit Edwards Group, when the car I parked next to caught my eye. It was an older Oldsmobile (insert joke about your father’s Oldsmobile here), kinda banged up with all the windows rolled down. As I got out of my car I couldn’t help but notice a suit coat thrown over the passenger’s seat and legal briefcases in the backseat. I thought, “Wow. High tech security.” I wondered what kind of attorney would leave briefcases like that, most likely full of confidential information, out in the open without lock and key.

I ran into Jimmy John’s and got my Slim #1 and walked back to the car. As I passed the Oldsmobile this time I noticed a document sitting on the front passenger’s seat just below the suit jacket. It read, “The Last Will and Testament of…” and that’s when I stopped reading. I know all wills become public documents at some point, but the fact that it was just sitting there out in the open just didn’t feel right. What was this attorney thinking?

Naturally, I thought of my work with Edwards Group and how seriously Dave and the rest of the staff take security and confidentiality. They even use the latest technology to protect the sensitive information clients give them when working on their plans. And Dave most certainly doesn’t drive around town with your information in his car, windows down and car unlocked!

In case you’re wondering what kind of information you’ll need to give when you start working with Edwards Group, or if you’ve been putting off filling out the forms in the Starter Packet for your Initial Meeting, just click HERE to get started.

The #1 Secret of Estate Planning

I’ve been thinking about all the workshops we’ve been doing. We enjoy leading them, and the response has been fantastic. People tell us they learn a lot. But it got me to thinking about the secret some people miss with their planning. It’s the secret that stands in the way of an effective Will or Trust.

Tell Us The BIG SECRET Already!

Today, we have unlimited knowledge all around us — books, the Internet, blogs, magazines. And now we have added our workshops to that mountain of information. We most certainly value education here at Edwards Group, but too much knowledge can sometimes be an obstacle. More knowledge can lead to more questions or more confusion about how all the pieces fit together. Then those questions or confusion lead to inaction. So, what is the big secret? Take action.

The #1 secret of estate planning is TAKE ACTION. Without it, you’ll never have an effective estate plan.

So what do you do first? Where do you start? We’ve made the first step as easy as possible: Attend our New Client Workshop.

Why a New Client Workshop?

To help people with this “big secret,” we have created a workshop that is not designed around a legal topic. Instead, it’s designed to show you how Edwards Group can lead you through the maze of estate planning and find true peace of mind. It’s a great time to get to know us and how we work.

Maybe you’ve been thinking about planning and wondering what it would be like to work with us. Maybe you would like to know why our clients’ plans are so effective and why almost 100% of our member families renew with us every year. Our New Client Orientation is the perfect way to do this.

Our next New Client Workshop will be held February 17 in Decatur. If you’re interested, email Tarina@EdwardsGroupLLC.com or call (217) 726-9200 for more information. Take action today!

 

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How to pick an estate attorney – 4 questions to ask

Here are the questions I want any client to ask before they hire Edwards Group LLC to complete their estate plan.

1. Is this the right law firm for you? (We’re not for everyone because we do things quite a bit differently than most attorneys.)

2. Are you the right client for us? We are picky about our clients, who we expect to become clients for life.

3. Is this the right time for you? Plan when you believe in it and are ready to invest your time and energy (and money) to do it right.

4. Do you clearly understand the fees? We are up front and quote flat fees before we start so we can dig into the planning without any more thoughts or worries about what it may cost.