The term professional is a non-descript adjective that is too generic to qualify as a potential advocate for the disposition of your assets, health directives, and child guardianship. Even some attorneys, who have general practices, may not qualify as an estate planner.
Vetting an attorney is more than stalking their LinkedIn bio, checking out the local community’s business accreditation and confirming good standing with the Bar. You need third party references from friends and business associates that have a track record of dependable recommendations to add to your online search. Choosing an attorney is selecting the financial steward of the family, a most trusted member of the family. In the Godfather, Tom Hagen is the “consigliere”, an adopted son with the Corleone family. He is the family counselor and confidant. His fiduciary responsibility can’t be underscored enough. He is deeply knowledgeable about personal family matters. He represents the family in the public domain both in legal matters and sometimes-financial matters as well.
In today’s world the estate attorney may be evolving into this old world idea of family fiduciary, the quarterback of the family’s team. He has subordinate team members such as financial advisers, insurance professionals, real estate brokers, bank trust officers and CPAs. His role is to coordinate this team on behalf of the family’s interests while maintaining no conflicts of interest with the family.
You need to perform a due diligence vetting process that narrows the field down to three attorneys. Usually by this time in the process, you’ve established their professional resumes with quality references. Going forward with the vetting process may have more to do with the relationship than scholarship. In one instance, a personal friend was performing an interview with an attorney when during the conversation specific information about a well-known family in the community was introduced as an example. But my friend interpreted this information as a violation of trust and eliminated the attorney from their consideration. He said to me, “loose lips sink ships,” an old Navy saying on talking about military movements in public. Choosing an advocate wisely is like adopting someone into the family. Elizabeth Westby, J.D. contributed to this press release.