Oftentimes, it can be difficult to know whether an estate planning attorney is knowledgeable. With that in mind, in this post, I’ve composed a list of “due diligence” questions which anyone can ask when searching for a New Jersey estate planning attorney.
- Are you a Board-Certified Estate Planning Law Specialist? Under the New Jersey Rules of Professional Conduct, attorneys can only hold themselves out to the public as specialists in estate planning if they have obtained a specialist certification from an organization which is accredited by the American Bar Association. As of the date of this post, the Estate Planning Law Specialist (EPLS) designation, granted by the Estate Specialist Law Board, is the only designation to fit this criteria. As a result, holders of the EPLS credential are the only attorneys in the State which can hold themselves out as estate planning specialists.
- How do you protect inheritances from a child’s divorce? If your child divorces after you’re gone, it’s very possible that your hard-earned dollars could be ripped from the ones you love, and instead be diverted to your child’s ex-spouse. Money that your children may have otherwise used for your grandchild’s college education could then be wastefully spent by an in-law. You’ll want to make sure that an attorney is familiar with using trusts to prevent this.
- Have you been published on any estate planning topics? While not every outstanding estate planning attorney is published on the topic, being published certainly lends credibility to an attorney. If an attorney is published, you may wish to ask the name of the publication. Self-publishing an e-book or blog doesn’t necessarily show any level of competence, while being published in a law journal often does.
- In longer term trusts, do you provide for a Trust Protector? A Trust Protector is an important feature of almost any longer term trust. Typically, a Trust Protector can at a minimum remove a misbehaving trustee and/or make changes to a trust if necessary to respond to changes in the tax code and other laws. Without a Trust Protector to make these “on the fly” adjustments, your loved ones may have to go to court to modify a trust after you’re gone. That involves unnecessary legal fees. A Trust Protector makes modification a much simpler, easier process.
- In trusts you draft, how do you deal with trustee vacancies? Unfortunately, I see many trusts that don’t address what happens when the trustees named in a trust document are all unable or unwilling to serve. With these sorts of trusts, unfortunately a court has to step in to appoint a trustee, which involves time and legal fees. On the other hand, a skilled estate planning attorney will generally draft trust documents such that a person or group of people elect a new trustee to fill any vacancies, without the need to go to court.
I hope you’ve found this list helpful. To learn about my qualifications as an estate planning attorney, click here.