Q: When drafting a will and power of attorney, is it best to work with an attorney in our county of residence?
We live in a rural town and county. A recent search on your site identified 2 estate attorneys in our local area. Our state capital is 30 miles away (and in another county). A search in that city produced a significantly longer list of estate attorneys. When it comes to filing our will and power of attorney documents with our local courthouse, does it matter if we work with an attorney whose practice is not in our county of residence? Thank you for your help.
A: Let's start with the "filing" part of your question. Your will gets filed with the court doing the probate. Washington is a little funny, as compared to say Oregon. In Oregon, you have to have some kind of connection with the county, such as living there, dying there, owning property there, etc.
In Washington, you can file in any county you want! Very strange. But, perhaps this is helpful for whoever is going to be taking on the personal representative ("PR") role. In a sense, the PR can pick a convenient county.
Now, for working with an attorney, local is always helpful because of convenience. Here's what is typical when I am doing estate plans. There is a first meeting. We meet. We talk. We talk about family, assets, wishes, and other things that help me determine the scope of the work. The meeting ends with my estimate of what it will take. I personally fixed-bid the job at that point, to remove the uncertainties on price.
The second meeting, I bring over the computer to the table. We do an interview. It's pretty structured. Some folks on day one, move immediately to this interview step. When the interview is complete, the client goes away and I go to work.
The third meeting, I present the book. It's a draft of the estate plan. The estate plan has other things beyond the will and the power of attorney. For many, the estate plan involves a revocable living trust. There are health care powers. There are other miscellaneous documents. It's all in the book. The client (or clients if it is a couple) takes the book home for homework.
The homework is simple--read and review the estate plan. I suggest yellow stickies for edit suggestions and questions. Nobody is perfect. The people are the client's people, so spelling of names is something only the client can be sure is correct.
In the fourth meeting, we review the homework. I make as many edits as reasonable right there in that meeting. If the book is too far from correct, the client goes away and then I have homework--to fix the book. But, if the book is all good, then at the fourth meeting, we can move directly to the signing phase.
Sometimes, things are compressed. For example, if someone is heading for surgery, and the doctors are talking percentages, we fly through the steps. One day we meet and interview, the next day we review and sign. Emergencies cause this kind of rush. I prefer to not have the rush.
So, now that you see what might be typical for the estate planning process, you can gauge for yourself if leaving town is worth the drive. Some people don't mind going some place nice to get the process finished. As a small town attorney myself, I have had many clients include vacation with completing an estate plan.
Best of luck in your search for getting your estate plan completed.
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