How Do I Find the Right Lawyer to Write My Will and Trust?

Step one was realizing that you need a Will, Trust, Durable Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy, Living Will, and other Estate Planning legal documents. Those are all necessary parts of having your own comprehensive estate plan. Or maybe you recognized that it is time to update your Will, Trust, and estate plan because so much has changed since you last looked at yours.

Maybe you moved or had a baby and need Guardianship for a minor child or children (just in case). Perhaps you now have grandchildren or there have been other family changes.  Maybe you got divorced.  Or perhaps your career or business took off and your assets and financial picture looks a whole lot different now than it did years ago. Maybe you recently came into a big inheritance and you’re not quite sure what to do with the money or property now that it’s yours and you’re wondering what the tax implications of all that might be.

The next step is learning how to find the right Massachusetts wills, trusts, and estates lawyer to help you create or update your estate plan.

Here is a list of Dos and Don’ts for how to find the right lawyer to help write (or rewrite) your Will, Trust, and estate plan (whether you are in Massachusetts or not). It is also about understandable mistakes to avoid when writing your Will and updating your trust and estate plan. 


  • Ask family and friends for recommendations.  But do not just ask for a name! Go beyond that and ask whether they personally worked with the lawyer they are recommending for the work you’re seeking.  Your friends might have a friend who does Wills, but did your friends actually go through their friends’ processes and see what it was like to work with them professionally?  You don’t have to ask anything personal about their choices or legal documents or what they paid (#awkward).  Even if you do, remember that every situation is different. What was appropriate for their estate plan may be very different from what you need or want.


  • Make sure there is a good “desk-side fit” between you and the lawyer you choose. Does it matter to you if the desk is in person, geographically close, and convenient for you, or online?  Some people prefer to meet and connect in person and others prefer the convenience of meeting remotely via video conference.  You need to be comfortable throughout the process in every way, which includes how the services are delivered and with the lawyer you choose.  Choosing guardians for your minor child or children can be hard.  Deciding how to provide resources for a child with special needs or suffering from addiction or mental health challenges can hurt.  Figuring out how to leave an inheritance and a lasting legacy, rather than a mess, for your family and other surviving loved ones is always deeply personal.  You must feel comfortable with the lawyer so she can help you open up and discuss those very private matters easily. You really want to find a whole team to care for, guide, and support you that you can trust.


  • Explore the law firm’s website.
    • Do they do a little of everything or do they concentrate on one area of the law?  A general practitioner will likely not have the depth of experience and understanding to really provide high-level service in a narrow practice area.  They are just splayed too thin trying to do too much. Many law firms say they do estate planning on their websites. Ask if that is their primary practice area. What do they usually write, post, and talk about?
      • At DGVE law, we concentrate exclusively on wills, trusts, and estates – both the pre-death planning ahead as well as the post-death probate and trust and estate administration.  We know what we draft into the legal documents and how those legal documents work when our clients need their plans to work in practice. We routinely practice in the Plymouth and Norfolk County Probate and Family Courts and around the Greater Boston area and the South Shore and South Coast of Massachusetts.
    • Is the firm up to date with technology to make it easier for you to work with them?  Can you complete intake forms, schedule appointments, and make payments online? If you prefer paper and mail or hand-delivering documents, do they have a regular, physical office space you can visit to do that, or is it by appointment only in shared office space?  What is most comfortable and important to you?  There are wide variations on this and there is no right or wrong answer, only your personal preference.


  • Research the lawyer you are considering.  Check out her biography on her law firm website and visit her LinkedIn profile.  Read client reviews on Google and on the lawyer’s website.  What is her background education and experience?  How many years has she been a lawyer?  How much experience does she have writing Wills, Trusts, and estate plans?  What is her professional philosophy and approach to estate planning?
    • Our founding attorney, Danielle G. Van Ess, is a long-time member and Director of the Massachusetts Forum of Estate Planning Attorneys. That is a professional organization dedicated to its attorneys’ continuing legal education about estate planning, probate, and trust and estate administration.
    • After 15 years of intense self-study, Danielle is currently working towards a legal masters degree (LLM) in taxation with a concentration in trusts and estates. From personal experience, Danielle is deeply passionate about helping her clients navigate the estate planning and probate and trust and estate administration processes and she brings that passion into the firm and it extends out to the whole DGVE law team.


  • Contact the law office directly.  How do you want to communicate with your lawyer?  Do you want to be able to send a quick text?  Do you want to receive automated appointment reminders?  Do you prefer to be able to call and speak with someone right away?  Is email more your style?  Find out how the firm will communicate with you.  Be sure to get on the telephone before you schedule your appointment to ask questions and learn more.


  • Ask what the process looks like.   Ask about the steps involved, how many meetings there are, and how long those meetings usually run.  Ask how long it will take to have your legal documents ready to sign into effect.  Ask what you will need to do to prepare and what you can expect from the law firm preparing your Will and estate plan.
    • Our process (either remote or in person) is clearly explained on our website and we refer our clients back to it each step of the way so they are fully informed about what comes next, what to expect, and how to prepare. Ask how you will share documents back and forth.
    • Ask what happens at the end of the entire process.  If it ends with the delivery of your paper documents that should be a red flag.  Ask why.
    • Don’t wait until you are panicked, in crisis, or it’s too late.  Don’t call right before your international vacation when you get on a plane to travel far from home and away from your children.  Unless it is a sudden emergency you did not foresee and could not have planned for sooner, do not call right before you are scheduled to go under anesthesia for surgery.
      • At DGVE law, yes, our firm usually can turn around an estate plan or at least the core medical and emergency legal documents on a rush basis, but that requires us to push everything else, may require us to work after hours (or even all night – we have done it before and would really prefer not to have to do it again!).
      • Make it easier on yourself. The easiest time to think and talk through the difficult questions and make the hardest choices about life and death is when it is all just hypothetical, just in case, and what if instead of when.
      • The best time to do your financial plan and your estate plan is when you are just getting your finances organized and your legal affairs in order. You do not have to complete one before you begin the other.  Those two projects work hand in hand. The best way to approach financial planning and getting your legal ducks in a row is via a team approach. Introduce your estate planning lawyer to your financial advisor or vice versa or ask one for a referral to the other.  Then let them work together to help you get your financial and legal houses in order.


  • Go ahead and ask about the “deliverables.”  So much of what it is like to meet and hire a lawyer to help you with any legal problem is invisible.  You and the lawyer and her paralegal or legal assistant talk a lot. You answer and ask questions and you listen.  You may take some notes and the lawyer and her team will take notes.  But usually, you are walking out of a meeting empty-handed.  There is nothing much to see or touch even though you may have paid a lot of money already!  That can feel scary and confusing if you are not as experienced in hiring and working with lawyers.
    • If you hired a real estate attorney in Massachusetts to buy or sell a house then you know at the end of that process you exchanged keys and money and there was a tangible, visible result at the end (and probably a stack of closing docs on paper or electronically).  With estate planning, it is at least as big a deal but instead of a condo or house at the end, there is paper.  How is that paper delivered?  How big is the stack?  Are you getting a folder with a simple Will, Health Care Proxy, Durable Power of Attorney, and Living Will? Are they stapled or folded into fancy blueback cardstock labeled in antique-looking font to drive home the gravity of your Last Will and Testament?  Are there multiple copies?  Do you receive the originals or does the law firm?  Do you receive electronic copies or only paper?  When it’s all said and done and your new or updated estate plan is complete with all the legal documents you and your family need, what will you have in hand?
    • Do not fall into the trap of thinking all lawyers who write Wills write them the same way.  There is not one form (be very afraid if there is – be even more afraid if it is one to three pages long!).  There is a very wide range of quality.  Just like you and your neighbors are not interchangeable with the same background family and financial situations, your legal documents should not be exactly the same either! What might look appealing because it is simple and not complex-looking might turn out to be extraordinarily complex and costly in the long run.  Probate litigation is a burgeoning field likely to grow in proportion to the number of DIY will and trust packages out there over time. (More on that below…) It is quite literally your money and your life, so take it seriously and find someone you trust who spends all day every day continuing to study, learn more, and continually refine her practice of law in the area of wills, trusts, and estates.


  • Definitely ask about fees, billing, and payments. Start talking about money! It has to be a part of a responsible estate plan, so the lawyer should be asking you a lot of questions about your assets and it is absolutely fair game to ask how the law firm charges.
    • Don’t ask how much it costs for a simple Will.  Don’t ask what a basic estate plan costs.  Don’t ask what the fee is for a trust.  There is no one set fee for an estate plan done right and there are more kinds of trusts than we could quickly count.
      • Every individual or family’s circumstances are at least a little bit different and without an appropriate amount of background information about your family, what you own and how you own it, and what your concerns and intentions are, it is really hard to provide a reasonable guesstimate.  After we have discussed all of that it is much easier to laser in on a fair estimate of fees and by the time you’re done answering all the tough questions to complete your estate plan design, then it’s possible to reasonably anticipate the scope of legal services involved so we can set a fair flat fee.
      • For more on this, read:
    • If you still want an estimated range of fees, then expect to answer some personal questions and provide private information so it’s possible for the person on the phone to give you that estimated range of fees.  Be really suspicious if you receive a flat fee quote for a will or trust without answering any questions about your family and finances.  
    • Ask whether they offer flat fees so you know exactly what to expect or if they bill hourly, or both.  As when they might bill hourly. Ask how they send invoices and when. Can you e-sign an engagement agreement or do you have to print the lawyer’s fee agreement to sign by hand and return by mail?
    • Ask about what kinds of payments the law firm accepts, when, and how.  Does the firm take credit cards?  Can the firm accept an electronic funds transfer?  Or do you have to write and mail a paper check?


  • Do not worry about having all your decisions made before you meet with the lawyer.  It’s her job to help counsel and advise you through the decision-making process and provide you with options you may never have considered or ways to resolve stalemates between you and your partner or spouse.  Wondering “who will take care of my child if I am in an accident or die?” is one of the hardest things a parent ever has to consider.  Sometimes, deciding who should be Guardian for your minor child or children is the hardest thing for parents to do together.  A good trusts and estates lawyer will help you see it from all angles so you make the next best choice, after you of course.  You do not have to figure it all out and decide who should manage your money and make decisions about your health care and take care of your kids before you call the lawyer.  That is all part of the process.


  • At this point, you may be wondering, Can I write my own Will?”  Sure!  Will it be legal and enforceable and done properly?  Probably not!  Do not do it yourself Do not use one of those online non-attorney services that promise a quick, easy way to get your will in place from the comfort of your own couch in just a few minutes for under $100.  If it calls itself a “Kit” and “Do It Yourself” will and trust click away fast.
    • If you read the fine print those all make it clear that they are not providing you with personalized legal advice and then when you’re all done you should hire and pay an attorney to review it for you to make sure you do not do what others have, like accidentally disinherit a child from a previous relationship, miss out on huge tax savings, or tie your surviving loved ones up in court for years after your death wasting their time and the money you would have left to them.
    • If you look closer, you will also see that the fees climb as you add form documents off the online shelf to your virtual cart, $150 for a Will + $300 for a Trust + $150 for a Power of Attorney + $150 for a Health Care Power of Attorney + $150 for an Advance Directive + more if you want it in a convenient storage kit …. it all starts to add up to a lot more than the initial low price you saw offered.
    • At DGVE law on the South Shore of Eastern Massachusetts, we have a high proportion of lawyer clients. Many of our lawyer clients work at other Greater Boston area law firms. Some work in BIG law firms.  Nowadays, like doctors of medicine (MDs), doctors of law (JDs) tend to specialize.  The same way you would not choose an oral surgeon who took out your child’s wisdom teeth to perform coronary bypass surgery on your heart, you should not choose a divorce or real estate lawyer to draft your Will (unless she also routinely practices in that area and you are satisfied with all the other questions and answers above).
    • Do not take advice from your friendly neighborhood bank teller (even one whose child is a current law student) who says you do not have to go through all that trouble because you can just make your bank account payable on death instead.  (True story.  More than once.)
    • Do not take estate planning legal and tax law advice from your “buddy on the boat” or your parent’s friend who mentioned it at the Summer party or your neighbor who said something recently or your insurance agent who sold you that life insurance policy …. unless that person is also trusts and estates or tax attorney.  People genuinely mean well and are helpful, but this is a very complex and nuanced area of the law, and your life, loved ones, and money are too important to trust to casual, unprofessional or untrained, or unlicensed advice.


DGVE law is a boutique Wills, Trusts, Estate Planning, Probate, and Trust Administration law firm right in the heart of downtown Hingham Square on Boston’s South Shore. If you are in Massachusetts, we are here for you and your family, online and in person, to help take care of the most important people and things in your life. Our firm is trusted by over 400 Massachusetts families and counting… Contact us now to experience the DGVE law difference for yourself: 781-740-0848 or  


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