If one of the methods discussed in this series looks right for you, the next step is to find yourself a good estate planning attorney.
These legal strategies are not for do-it-yourselfers. Each is too complicated to handle without special expertise. Even Nolo Press, the popular Berkeley publisher of self-help legal books, advises that "for many sophisticated estate planning concerns, you do need to see a lawyer."
But how do you find one?
The Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, available in most libraries, is one reliable source. Make sure to check if the attorney is a fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel. It's an added credential.
The college, which has been in existence since the 1940s and whose national headquarters is in Los Angeles, taps outstanding estate planning attorneys for membership. There are only 200 fellows in California and about 2,600 throughout the country.
Check to see if the attorney is a certified specialist in probate, estate planning and trust law. This sub-specialty was created in 1990, when State Bar officials recognized the range and complexity of the burgeoning field of estate planning law. Another specialty to look for is taxation.
Once you've selected a prospective attorney, make sure you find out what he or she charges. Some offer a free initial consultation; most, however, charge fees ranging from $200 to $350 an hour. And you'll be asked to provide a lot of financial data at that first meeting. So be prepared.
And be prepared for total legal fees that could range between $1,500 and $5,000, depending which estate-planning strategy you choose, the amount of property involved and the types of expertise required. The partnership agreement could even reach $10,000.
But considering that your heirs would face death taxes of $153,000 if your estate (as a single person) amounts to $1 million, you might decide it makes more sense to pay now rather than have them face the likelihood of paying a lot more after you die.