Estate Planning Practice – Process, Procedure and Fees
Estate Planning Practice – Process, Procedure and Pay
Why Process is Important in Your Practice
Implementing a process for one’s estate planning practice is an important tool that can be crucial in protecting against liability. In addition to protecting against future liability, a process can assist in focusing clients’ attention on the relevant issues at hand which can further assist with file efficiency.
Inquiry Stage - Data Collection - Retainer -Planning - Drafting - Client Review - Fee collection- Reporting/Closing - Storage/Delivery
Many estate planners will begin their inquiry stage with an introductory email which outlines the process, expected timing, and fees. The inquiry stage is important for both clients and lawyers. For clients, expectations are set during this stage. For lawyers, undesirable clients can be weeded out. Moreover, lawyers will often inquire about the referral source.
Data Collection Stage
The most common method of collecting data prior to a client meeting is by way of questionnaire. Approximately three quarters of attendees on the weekly E-state Planner webinar confirmed that they use this data collection method. Additionally, the majority of estate planning lawyers will have two to three meetings with clients to gather further information.
This stage is significant as it allows lawyers to outline the parameters of the retainer, set boundaries, and confirm any limits to their service. The retainer also sets out fee arrangements. The retainer stage should be incorporated into every process.
During the planning stage, the lawyer will often lead his or her client through different options for their estate plans. It is helpful to provide the client with context, break down any complexities, use visual aids rather than simply words, and confirm instructions. Documenting instructions is the most important stage for a lawyer. Careful notes should be written during the planning stage and should document specific instructions given by the client and questions asked by the lawyer.
Precedents are used to draft a will. While precedents are very helpful, lawyers should ensure they are not just editing a precedent without taking into account the client’s unique circumstance. On average, the drafting stage takes approximately four hours.
Client Review Stage
Using a guide to summarize the will is very helpful for clients. E-state Planner automatically generates this guide.
Clients are responsible for ensuring that all names are spelled correctly in the will and for identifying any factual errors.
It is prudent for lawyers to direct a client’s attention to any changes that might have been made from previous drafts.
The execution of the will by witnesses needs to be contemporaneous with the executor. As such, the “circulation method” whereby an original document is sent from the testator to the witness, will no longer be permitted after May 20, 2021.
When determining an appropriate fee, lawyers should consider the time required to draft a will, the risk of liability, and what their competition is charging. Lawyers may increase their fees if multiple wills are required.
Reporting letters identify that the retainer is at an end and often identify any steps taken by the lawyer. A reporting letter can protect lawyers against many areas of liability.
The general practice is to return the original will to a client. However, if a lawyer agrees to store the original will, he or she must ensure that the will is kept in a safe place. Additionally, it would be prudent to have an escrow agreement which outlines the parameters for releasing a will or power of attorney document.
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