How to choose an estate planner

How to choose an estate planner

By: Martin M. Shenkman, CPA, MBA, JD

August 4, 2008

How to choose an estate planner

Estate planning requires more than just a lawyer. You need a lawyer to draft documents like a will, but you need an estate planning TEAM to fully obtain the best financial and estate plan that is possible for your situation.

Your estate planning lawyer, must coordinate with your investment advisers about:

  • Title to accounts.
  • Current and future financial condition.
  • Beneficiary designations.
  • And more…..

Your estate planner must coordinate with you accountant about:

  • Tax status.
  • How estate planning affects tax returns.
  • And more…..

Your estate planner must coordinate with your insurance consultant with regard to:

  • Long term care insurance.
  • Life insurance to protect your loved ones.
  • Life insurance to pay estate tax.
  • And more…….

With the understanding of the TEAM you need, you can now best consider how to select an estate planning attorney:

  • The attorney must be a team player.
  • You don’t want an attorney who is selling you insurance, preparing a tax return, or other parts of your planning.
  • The attorney should have a substantial portion of their practice devoted to estate planning. You don’t want someone who writes a couple of wills now and then. Estate planning is much more.

Ask what the attorney normally recommends as an estate plan. If the recommendation doesn’t include at least the following, you have the wrong planner:

  • Power of attorney.
  • Living will.
  • Health Proxy.
  • Will.
  • Review of financial status and beneficiary designations.
  • Review of how assets are owned (titled).

The attorney should bill either hourly or a fixed fee for routine matters, or a combination of the two. The billing should be clear and unrelated to the size of your estate.

The attorney should be independent of your other advisers. You don’t want someone getting paid by an insurance agent doing your planning, because he will probably have a hidden agenda.

The attorney should be able and willing to deal with personal, and not just legal, issues.

The above is a summary of a radio show on MMFN Money Matters Financial Network, on August 4, 2008 with host Gary Goldberg, of Gary Goldberg Planning Services, Inc. in Montebello, New York, and his guest Martin M. Shenkman, Esq. an estate planner in Paramus, New Jersey. Listen to the audio clip of this segment on

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