7 Do’s and Don’ts of Collaborating with Estate Planning Attorneys


Financial planners are uniquely suited to be the quarterback of the estate planning process and can motivate clients to do estate planning with an attorney. But planners must be careful to understand that they are not the experts in estate planning and should normally defer to the expertise of the estate planning attorney.

As an estate planning attorney who works mostly with financial planners with their clients, I have spoken on the topic of successfully working with estate attorneys to financial advisers, I teach estate planning to people who want to be CFP® professionals, have been the president of an FPA chapter and have been involved in the financial planning community for more than 25 years.

In the past I have been approached by financial planners who want me to draft estate planning documents at their direction, without allowing me to meet or talk to the client.  I have always refused this relationship because they are not collaborations or allowing me to do what is best for the client, but instead the financial planner is treating the estate planning lawyer like a mechanic and is not respecting the a lawyer’s knowledge and experience.

I am also sometimes faced with financial planners who ask me almost immediately what the fee is going to be, as if what I do is not as important as what they do, or that if they are involved in the process, it makes it easier so I should charge less. My typical response is to ask them if they would charge less if I referred a client to them or was involved in the financial planning or investment management process, and that answer is always, “No.”

So, here is my advice to successfully work with good and experienced estate planning attorneys:

1) Do not expect, or even ask, for the estate planning attorney to refer a client to you. Most really good estate planning attorneys get most of their clients from advisers and do not have the ability to refer clients. However, an estate planning attorney who understands and respects the financial planning process should, over time, be able to refer significant financial planning and investment management business to financial planners. In the last year, I have given referrals of clients to financial planners who collectively have about $50 million in assets. Those referrals go to those financial planners with whom I have worked, have met their clients, understand how they work and who respect what I have to bring to the relationship.

2) Do not negotiate a lower fee for your client. It is acceptable to talk fees and fee ranges, but do not say to the estate planning attorney that he should charge less to your clients for any reason.

3) Do come to any meeting you want with the client and the estate planning attorney. Do not work with an estate planning attorney who tells you that you can’t do this

4) If you or your client wants, review the estate planning documents before signing. Have an open and frank discussion with the attorney without the client present about any problems or questions. Do not work with an estate planning attorney who doesn’t want to send you drafts (obviously the client has to agree) or who just discounts any of your comments.

5) Do be the person who drives the implementation of the estate plan. If you do this, you will become more in control of the client, will probably get more work from the client and his friends, and be in the position to do the right thing. So, I rely on the financial planner to help the client re-title assets, change beneficiary designations, etc.

6) Do monitor any estate planning technique to make sure everyone is following the economics. Be in control of the process, the implementation and the follow-up.

7) Do motivate clients to meet with the estate planning attorney. Encourage them to meet with the estate planning attorney initially and when changes are needed.

There are many great estate planning attorneys out there. Financial planners must respect what an estate planner does and the estate planner must respect what a financial planner does. If you are referring your clients to someone who does not respect what you do or how you do it, then find someone else. If the estate planning attorney does not allow you to be part of the process, find someone else.

GaryAltmanThumbGary Altman
Principal Attorney
Altman & Associates
Rockville, Maryland


Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared in our Financial Planning Association’s FPA Connect community as a response to a query about the processes for working with estate attorneys. To contribute to the conversation, visit FPA Connect

Other FPA content that may be of interest to you include the following: 

17 thoughts on “7 Do’s and Don’ts of Collaborating with Estate Planning Attorneys

  1. I think it’s a great idea to hire a person to plan your estate with you. They can make things a lot easier for you. That being said, it is important to make sure they they help you out the ways that you need it! Thanks for sharing.

  2. This was some very excellent advice for talking with an estate planning attorney. I especially needed to hear the second one because negotiating for a lower fee is something I would do. Now that I’ve read this I’m a lot more prepared to talk with an estate planning attorney. Is the main reason you shouldn’t try to negotiate because you are not an expert and they are?

  3. I think planning your estate is something that you should look into almost as soon as you can. I like that you mention motivating people to talk to an estate planning attorney. It can really benefit you if you know what you are doing.

  4. I definitely agree that it is important to get any documents or drafts from the estate planning attorney. If they are not willing to be transparent with you then you should probably try woking with someone else. I also agree that the client should meet with the estate planning attorney. This is the transparency on the financial planners side and will show the client that you are doing everything you can to help them get their estate in order.

  5. It’s a good idea for the financial planner to be involved in the estate planner’s process and vice versa is very important. It makes communication very open so that there are no errors. Thanks for sharing the advice.

  6. I agree that you should not suggest that a lawyer like this charges the client less money. This is just a part of professionalism in general, and even if they didn’t say anything, it could damage your working relationship. I haven’t thought about how a person in this position could motivate the client to meet with an estate planning attorney. This is a great thing to keep in mind, thank you!

  7. Lately, my mom has been really interested in estate planning. She mostly just wants to prepare for the future. I have to say, I had no idea all the collaboration that was involved with such an undertaking. Thanks for the advice.

  8. You make a ton of great points here.

  9. Hello,

    Useful post.

    Estate planning enables the individual to ensure that particular individuals receive certain assets that you may have. And an estate planning attorney knows how to do this better by avoiding conflicts between family members.

    It’s never too early to create an estate plan.l. It’s definitely on my list for the next six months.

    Thanks for this amazing post.

    Keep up the good work.

    All the best.

    Michael Haslam

  10. I like the idea to review your estate planning documents before signing them. I recently got married and I want to make sure that my family is cared for should I pass away. I’m hoping to find an attorney that could help to make my will and testament legal through legitimate documentation.

  11. Thank you for sharing this important information with people looking to work with an estate planning attorney, along with their financial advisor. It is good to know that estate attorneys are experts in their field and know how to best sort out the documents, forms, and plans needed to protect your assets and family in the future. Things such as wills, advanced directives, life insurance policies, and beneficiaries are crucial to setting up your future. If you want them to be done correctly, even if you are working with a financial planner, make sure you follow what your estate planning attorney recommends and work together as a team, each bringing your own expertise and knowledge to the table.

  12. It makes sense that you would want to respect the price set by an estate planning service when working on behalf of a client. Getting that kind of professional help when deciding how to take care of your assets after you’ve passed away could be priceless if done correctly. Knowing that your family will be in good hands when you can’t be there for them would be extremely comforting as your life comes to a close so it should be done with lots of care, regardless of price.

  13. I love number 7, always motivate your clients!

  14. I do like how you mentioned that good estate planning attorneys can give referrals to potentially trust worth financial planners they had worked with previously. That is great to learn as it would make my estate planning a lot easier and more convenient in many aspects. Thanks for the helpful guide on some do’s and don’ts of collaborating with an estate planning attorney!

  15. My uncle is already old and was diagnosed with a terminal disease. It was mentioned here that there should be an open communication between the client and lawyer about the estate planning documents. Furthermore, we should be in control of the process, implementation and the follow-up.

  16. I liked that you said that one thing to consider when looking to hire an estate attorney is to make sure that the attorney is willing to meet with you, the client, prior to starting any work so that you can receive an explanation and understanding of the process. I would imagine that getting to know your attorney would help you to better trust them in handling your work. I would be sure to consider hiring a professional and trustworthy attorney to help me in estate planning so that I would be comfortable with the situation.

  17. That’s a good idea to not negotiate lower costs for the other lawyer. I would think that would make them pretty upset at you if you make them take less money. Hopefully, that could keep your relationship good.

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