We see them a lot; Lawyers that is, advertising their cut-price Wills on brightly painted sandwich boards plonked on the footpaths of our suburban streets. There is an old saying that goes something like, ‘if something sounds too good to be true then it probably is.’
Where Wills are concerned you really do get what you pay for. In fact, the less you pay the more likely it is that you will be bequeathing problems (as opposed to assets). While I spend a great deal of time warning people about the dangers of DIY Will Kits, I rarely tackle what is nearly as great a concern, that is the lawyer who has no idea how to write a Will.
“But surely all lawyers can write a Will.” I hear you say.
You’d think that Will drafting is something that would be covered in Law 101. Alas, it is a topic which receives minimal to zero attention in educational institutions across this country. Fact is; most Law students graduate without any knowledge (let alone experience) in drafting Wills. Even more frightening is what I am about to suggest, that too many lawyers are not only inexperienced in Estate Planning, but they have no idea that this is the case (or even worse they don’t care).
You see what many people (and quite a few lawyers) don’t realise, is that drafting a Will requires both expertise and time. A quality Will, that is one that will continue to work hard for you beyond the grave, is one which is only drafted following a lengthy (and detailed) discussion with the client. Only once this information has been gathered can a strategy be developed, culminating in a tailored (bespoke) document with you, the client, in mind. Note that there are no short cuts for expediting this process. This is something to consider when confronted with a lawyer peddling a cheap Will. Chances are, what you will get is a very brief meeting followed by a cut and paste generic document (created in a single sitting). In fact, some of these budget Wills are so bad that they are only a small jump up from a DIY Will Kit.
Unfortunately, this issue is not only limited to the drafting of Wills. At Welden & Coluccio Lawyers we have inherited many estates from lawyers for whom their limited understanding of Probate Law has led to a mismanagement of the file. In these situations the story is nearly always the same; massive legal fees and a file that has not moved forward to the point where a Grant of Probate is delayed. This is certainly the case with a number of the files we have inherited, some with Probate not granted after 4 years, one of which we rectified in a mere 6 weeks. Too often the cost of this incompetence is absorbed by the client, a fact I find hard to swallow, especially because I know the intrinsic value of having an expert in such instances.
Only an ‘expert’ in the field of Estate Planning and Administration has the knowledge and experience to effectively navigate this extremely specialised area of Law in a timely manner whilst keeping costs to a minimum.
So how does one go about finding a good Estate Lawyer?
Like most things, it requires that you the consumer do some research and be prepared to ask some important questions. Such research may involve making contact with the South Australian Law Society. Once they know a little about your needs they can offer you a list of lawyers who are specialised in this area of law. Be prepared to conduct your own internet research. Look for a solicitor who is professionally active in this capacity. They may state this explicitly or, they may blog extensively on the topic, present at seminars and conferences or are involved in various professional committees that relate to this area of law. Big firms don’t always mean better. Make certain that the actual person who does your Will is the one who has the passion and the experience for this area of Law. Remember, the larger firms quite often work on volume. This may mean that they get the junior solicitor (the one with minimal experience) to do the Wills. Finally, make contact with a few lawyers. Ask about the process, time-frame and the costs involved. Avoid choosing a lawyer based on the recommendation of a friend or family member, especially if their matter was different to your own. Above all, remember, you want to employ the person with the knowledge and experience to do the job effectively the first time.