How to choose an estate planning lawyer

Four steps to help choose an estate planning lawyer

Not everyone will need an estate attorney but when do need a lawyer, you’ll want a good one. Even if you have a simple estate, it’s best to have an attorney help you decide how to dispense with your personal property and real estate after you die, which can help avoid family strife and tax consequences.

So how do you find an attorney or law firm that is up to date on current law and can help with your estate planning?


1. Ask for help

Your friends, family or other people you trust are great resources for finding an estate planning attorney. Also, ask if they would use that attorney again.

Your financial advisor, accountant, and other lawyers can be good references too. If you have an attorney you use for other matters, they could give you a list of colleagues. Just remember you want a lawyer with a good professional reputation with the experience and knowledge needed to plan your estate.

A simple web search can turn up contenders too. As can the local bar association’s website. For example, the Rutherford and Cannon County Bar Association has a directory on its site that lists all its members and their specialties.

The Tennessee Bar Association has a referral service. If you live in Middle Tennessee, call 615-242-6546 for help or visit


2. Compile a list of lawyers

Once you’ve talked to all your friends, use that advice you received from your friends and family to compile a list of potential attorneys. Then start your research.

Ask other attorneys, contact the local bar association and the local probate court, if the lawyer has been sanctioned or suspended for any reason. Make sure they are in good standing or if they have had any significant complaints or professional disciplinary action.

Make sure the lawyers on your list specialize in estate planning. Tennessee doesn’t require certifications but you should make sure they have at least five years experience in estate planning.

You should look and see if they are members of professional groups, like the local or state bar.  Check out their websites and social media presence. You can get a good idea of their backgrounds, practice and how they present themselves through these marketing tools.


3. Interview your top picks

Start with a wide array of options and a phone conversation. After you complete your research, call up a handful of your favorites and have a brief conversation about your needs.

Use the phone interviews to narrow the list down to the top three for in-person interviews. Before you set the appointment, ask if the meeting is a free or low-cost initial consultation so you’re prepared for the bill at the end.

Before the meetings, gather together your documents and pertinent information. You can also ask if there is anything, in particular, the lawyer would need to see to evaluate your case. Sometimes attorneys will have you fill out an intake form. Ask in advance so you know they will have all the information they need.

During the interviews, ask about their practice, experience, and thoughts on your situation. Also, ask about if the attorney has malpractice or professional liability insurance. Tennessee doesn’t require attorneys to carry malpractice insurance, however, responsible lawyers purchase have it. If a mistake is made, it could be costly or possibly impossible to fix with liability insurance.

Don’t overlook cost. And always take notes. After you’ve talked to a dozen attorneys, you’ll forget who said what.

Finally, ask for references.


4. Make your decision

Take all their answers and compare them along with their behavior and demeanor. Pick the one who is best at explaining the law and your options in a way that is easy to understand. It’s also important to trust them.

Whoever you choose, know that you will have to discuss personal and private information that may be uncomfortable conversations.

If the interview feels stiff and awkward, that attorney is not the one for you.

If you’re trying to understand the laws regarding estate planning in Tennessee or are looking for an estate planning lawyer, contact the Law Office of Michael Craig for any questions or to discuss first steps.