“You do wills and stuff, right?” Probably every lawyer has been asked this question are one time or another. And it’s not limited to estate planning – most people think every lawyer can handle a traffic ticket or a basic divorce as well. The problem is not that the public make these assumptions, it’s that some lawyers prove the assumption. Many lawyers think that if they can get their hands on a set of estate planning templates then they are “Estate Planning Lawyers” – they can sell wills with your name filled in the blank, that’s basically estate planning, right? Unfortunately, dabbling happens all-too-often in law. But what people don’t see is the danger of dabbling when the time comes for your plan to be put into action, i.e., when you become incapacitated or pass away.
Comprehensive Estate Planning requires experience with plans playing out – i.e., probating wills and family members using powers of attorney. When dealing with the results of estate planning, you learn first hand what works and what doesn’t.
Experience really informs planning strategy. When you lack probate and estate administration experience, you’re more likely to draft plans that will create issues after it’s too late to change them (i.e., incapacity or death).
Most estate planning lawyers use drafting software that contemplates many different circumstances and planning strategies for their clients. We use these platforms to be more efficient and to not “reinvent the wheel” for every plan. The issue arises when the lawyer using the drafting software does not understand, or even care, what the software actually does and the significance of the provisions they’re creating.
The issues are even more significant with more complex planning propositions like special needs planning, medicaid long-term care planning, and high net worth estate tax planning. When you dabble in estate planning, chances are you’re not going to know the regulatory, tax, or statutory significance of the provisions of the plans you’re creating. When the time comes for the plan to play out, the plan is much more likely to fail.
Attorneys who focus on Estate Planning take estate planning continued education courses, build systems that specifically contemplate an estate planning matter, and follow processes to make their practice as efficient and consistent as possible for their estate planning matters. When a lawyer dabbles in Estate Planning, the chance of any of their processes or systems being refined and efficient is much less. Their continuing education classes are more likely to have variety. Which makes sense – general practitioners are trying to be competent in many areas of law instead of being “an inch wide and a mile deep” in one. Would you want your landscaper doing your roof, or would you hire a roofer instead? The same concept applies for lawyers. If you want your estate plan completed, and you want it done right, you’re way better off going with an estate planning lawyer.