Attorney and Counselor at Law
There are many estate planning and probate law firms and lawyers; how do we choose?
Estate planning, or managing an estate after someone close to you has died, can be stressful. It is important to select an attorney with whom you feel comfortable sharing personal information and discussing options. Here are some other factors to consider:
- Does the attorney work primarily in this area of law? Estate planning and administration involve many specialized legal considerations, and to provide the best service, it is important that your attorney has the time and resources to keep up-to-date with the constant changes in these fields of law. This can be difficult for an attorney who must also follow developments in criminal law, personal injury litigation, and other areas.
- How much experience does the attorney have solving problems like yours? Some estate planning attorneys only draft simple wills and basic revocable trusts. Others may have more experience crafting plans to address more specialized concerns, such as special needs childre or adults, pet trusts, charitable giving, complex tax situation, or blended families. While no two families or plans are identical, some attorneys may have more knowledge or experience with the kinds of issues that concern you.
- Will the attorney take the time to understand and respond to your concerns specifically? If an attorney is too quick to make recommendations, without taking the time to understand the details of your situation, it may be a sign that the firm takes a "one size fits all" approach to estate planning. You may be better served by someone who will take the time to gather relevant information, perform a careful analysis, and consider all options, before making suggestions.
- Does the attorney have solid research and writing skills? No attorney, even a specialist, can be expected to know the answer to every legal question that might arise when handling a case. Consequently, a good attorney should be willing and able to conduct thorough and efficient research when necessary. And, if an attorney's written communications are filled with typographical and grammatical errors, consider whether he or she will display the same level of carelessness when dealing with the substantive aspects of your case.
- Are appointments available at a time and place that are convenient for you? Consider the location of the attorney's office, and find out whether evening or weekend appointments, or house calls, are available if your work schedule or physical limitations require such arrangements.
- Are you comfortable with the ways in which the firm uses technology? Will your preferences regarding communication be accommodated? Do you feel that the firm uses technology appropriately to render more efficient service, when it can be done without sacrificing quality or confidentiality?
- Will your telephone calls and inquiries be answered promptly, by a qualified attorney? When you have a question or concern, you should be able to speak to someone with the qualifications necessary to address the issue, in a timely manner. If your attorney is frequently out of the office (in court, attending meetings or depositions, or on inter-island travel), how and when will your calls or e-mails be returned?
- What are the firm's policies regarding fees and payment? If all billing is hourly, how will you know what the total cost is likely to be? Do you know what additional charges will be billed in addition to the attorney's time? How are the services of support staff billed? Is a large retainer required before any work is begun?
Kauai Estate Law, LLLC is a single-member Limited Liability Law Company, owned and managed by attorney Cynthia Hannah-White. Cynthia is licensed to practice law in Hawaii and New York, and is a member of the Kauai Bar Association, the Probate and Estate Planning section of the Hawaii State Bar Association, WealthCounsel and ElderCounsel. She also serves on the Board of Directors of Kauai Hospice, and is a founder and Board Member of Kauai Robotics Alliance, Inc., a local non-profit that supports youth robotics teams and programs on Kauai.
Cynthia graduated from Cornell Law School, magna cum laude, in 1992. After law school, she served as a court attorney and confidential legal assistant to two highly respected New York State justices for 16 years. In these positions Cynthia gained a strong knowledge of courtroom procedure and litigation strategy and tactics, and honed her legal research and writing skills. She was sought out as an expert in these areas by many attorneys in the upstate New York area, before she relocated to Hawaii in 2008.
Since opening Kauai Estate Law, LLLC in 2008, Cynthia has focused her attention on the areas of estate planning, probate and trust law and taxation. By limiting her practice to these legal topics, Cynthia is able to stay abreast of the complex and constantly changing laws and rulings that govern the planning, administration and taxation of trusts and estates. Over the past eight years, Cynthia has drafted hundreds of estate plans using a myriad of tools including special needs trusts, charitable trusts, pet trusts, tax-saving plans, business succession plans, and many others. Cynthia works witn clients of all ages, blended families, same-sex couples, singles with and without children, and multi-generational families that want to plan together. She has planned very small estates, and others of over $15 million. Her presentations on estate planning topics have been well-received by local Rotary clubs, caregiver groups, parent groups, and AARP members.
Our support staff are Laura G. Schoenfeld and Kate Mink. Laura is an attorney who ran her own successful estate law firm in Arizona, until she recently relocated to Kauai to pursue a more relaxed, "semi-retired" lifestyle. She provides expert paralegal services for Kauai Estate Law on a part-time basis, primarily in the areas of probate and trust funding, and also manages our Maintenance Program. Kate is an experienced legal assistant and commissioned Notary Public, who handles our administrative matters and much of the deed research, drafting and recording.
Photographs on this page courtesy of S. Stockley (l) and David B. Lat (r).