My inspiration for today’s post comes from this recent article in the New York Times about debt relief firms, and a few questions I was asked by a prospective client.

As a former consumer debtor lawyer who represented many good families through bankruptcy proceedings in the 1980s and 1990s, I have an intense dislike for the predators preying on the most vulnerable members of our economy – those who have lost their jobs and their hope for the future, and who will try anything to avoid further soiling their already shattered self image.  The article describes the feeding frenzy of entrepreneurs taking advantage of this class of consumers desperate for a solution out of their current travails.  It brings to mind the late night television infomercials promising get rich quick schemes where the only ones getting rich are the ones selling the schemes.

What does all this have to do with estate planning?

A competent estate planner likes inquisitive clients, and especially likes clients who question credentials, experience, and pricing.  It helps the lawyer “sharpen the saw,” identify what is important to the client, and to remain relevant in an ever changing world.

Your estate planner should have good answers to all your questions including how much will it cost, how long will it take, why he or she should hire you, and what the client should do if you are not around when they need you.  If you are going to share personal and financial details with your lawyer you need to have confidence and trust in that person, and a good estate planner knows this.

A skeptical client should want to know about the lawyer sitting across the table from him or her before divulging personal information.  In today’s electronic age, a prospective client can a have a wealth of information before the meeting even begins: the lawyer’s web site and other public information such asMartindale Hubbell listing and rating, State Bar information, reported cases, and other commercial listings.  All of these let the prospective client garner a lot of information, but there is no substitute for asking questions and observing the lawyer’s verbal and non-verbal communication skills.  You must like and trust the lawyer in whom you will repose trust – trust in the lawyer’s skill, knowledge, experience, talent, honesty, and demeanor.  Hiring an estate planner is an important personal decision.

I recently had a conversation with a financial advisor. The purpose of the meeting in her words was for her to find out about my practice.  Near the end of the conversation I asked her to tell me some of her most common frustrations with the lawyers she worked with and how I could improve on their performance if we were to work together.  She was taken aback by my candor and thought talking about her relationships with other lawyers was improper, but I think bluntness is essential for good communication.  Unless I found out why she was looking for more lawyers to work with, I might repeat the same mistakes.  I ask all my clients who come to me with documents drawn by other local lawyers the same question – I want to find out up front if I can do better or if the best advice is to go back or keep looking.

A good estate plan is a living plan.  It is not documents.  A good estate plan is one that sparks a thoughtful discussion of ideas centered on the client’s values, assets, family, desires, and intentions.  An estate plan is a priceless investment and you deserve an estate planner that has spent the time to understand the importance of that process and can communicate ideas that address your innermost concerns in a manner that comforts you.

What does all this have to do with the debt relief firms that cost a lot of money but end up leaving their customers worse off than before they started?  Simply that it brought home to me that estate planners don’t have customers, they have clients, and an attorney-client relationship must be built on trust.

If you want an estate planner who welcomes your questions and takes into consideration your family and your values as well as your assets, call our firm.  As an additional incentive—mention this post to Lisa, my experienced client coordinator, and I will waive the customary $500.00 initial meeting fee.