Most people seem to be somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of seeing a lawyer. But maybe it’s time for Mom or Dad to see one because the estate plan hasn’t been updated in thirty years, and things have changed. Maybe you’re worried that Mom or Dad’s affairs are not in order, and they’re “getting up there” in years. So, how does one begin to look for a qualified lawyer if you’ve never been to one, and don’t know one?
Unfortunately, law schools do not teach communication skills as a part of the standard curriculum. A qualified lawyer can be very good at the technical aspects of legal work and terrible at relating to people representation. One essential is that the prospective client deserves a chance to briefly meet with or at least, talk to the attorney without being charged for the attorney’s time, to simply see if it feels like a good fit. I recommend that Dad or Mom interview the lawyer briefly. If the elder feels comfortable, it’s a good start. If the lawyer seems to be in a hurry, is a poor listener, or is not prepared, look elsewhere. Remember that when adult children take their elders to lawyers to make or update an estate plan (will or trust), the elder is the client. The attorney must focus on the elder’s wishes, and must speak to the elder alone. The lawyer is ethically bound to do as the elder wants, whether the adult children disagree with it or not.
If you are the adult child, do not expect the lawyer to advise you, personally, if she or he represents your mother or father, unless you are the current power of attorney for your mother or father. Of course, the elder can give permission for anyone else, including children, to be present when speaking with the lawyer.
Check your state bar’s website, or contact the state bar by telephone, to find out if there is any record of discipline for any lawyer you are planning to consult. You want a lawyer with a clean record. Be sure she or he has a current license to practice law and no disciplinary charges pending. Ask friends, relatives and others you trust to recommend someone for you/your aging loved one. Reputation of lawyers and word of mouth are a good way to learn about who is good at the job and who is not. If you are working on getting a new trust or will done, find someone who specializes in this area, called “estate planning” or “elder law”. A specialist typically has concentrated experience in one kind of law, and may be better able to serve your loved one.
Click next page for references
- American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), 601 E Street NW, Washington, DC 20049, http://www.aarp.org, accessed January, 2008.
- National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, Inc., 1604 North Country Club Road, Tucson, AZ 85716, http://www.naela.org, accessed January, 2008.
- “Standards for Attorney Certification in Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Law,” State Bar of California, San Francisco (Main Office), 180 Howard Street, San Francisco, CA 94105, http://www.calbar.ca.gov/ calbar/pdfs/rules/Rules_Title3_Div2-Ch5_LegSpec_Estate.pdf, accessed January, 2008.