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How to Prepare for Meeting with an Estate Planning Attorney

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You’ve decided that you want to create your estate plan. It’s a wise choice, and committing to the process is the first step. You want an effective and comprehensive estate plan that accomplishes your goals, but you’re busy so you want the process to be efficient. The key is preparation. Consider taking the following steps before your initial consultation with an estate planning attorney.

Take inventory of your assets

In order to effectively plan your estate, you have to know what you have and how you own it. It sounds simple enough, but sometimes there’s more than meets the eye. Real estate, bank accounts, securities and retirement accounts immediately come to mind. But we also want to think about assets such as life insurance, business interests, collections, pending and future inheritances and even digital property. Organizing your various assets and property into a useful format and confirming current title and beneficiary designations can be a very helpful exercise not only for estate planning, but also financial planning and organization. After engaging in this process, clients often feel like they have a better handle on their finances and are sometimes surprised about what they’ve discovered and find that necessary changes may become evident.

List all possible beneficiaries

Your first line of beneficiaries are your primary beneficiaries — for example, your spouse and children. But, you want to also think beyond the first level and consider who would inherit after primary beneficiaries (your “contingent” beneficiaries). Also consider any beneficiaries of specific gifts — maybe parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, friends and also your favorite charities. Even if you’re not sure initially, start by identifying the entire spectrum of anyone who might be either a primary or contingent beneficiary in your estate plan. List each beneficiary’s legal name, relationship, date of birth, current address and, if available, social security number.

Consider potential fiduciaries

Your fiduciaries are the individuals or entities that are your successors who will help carry out your plans. We’re talking about guardians for minor children, agents for powers of attorney, executors for wills and successor trustees for trusts. Different individuals may be best suited for different roles within your plan. Always consider successors if your first choice is unwilling or unable to serve. As you’re considering the possibilities in crafting your plan, you may want to discuss your decision with your designated fiduciaries. Would that person be comfortable filling that role? As you’re preparing to meet with an estate planning attorney, you don’t need to make final decisions on all of these roles, but it is helpful to identify all of those who may serve in one role or another for purposes of discussion.

Think broadly about your goals and objectives

Many clients come into my office having already decided that they need a revocable living trust or that they only need simple wills or powers of attorney. Wills and trusts may be the tools — the means to achieve an end result, but they are not your actual goals and objectives. Your goals and objectives are more basic desires, such as:

  • appointing standby agents to make health and property decisions during incapacity
  • protecting a beneficiary’s inheritance from spouses and creditors
  • designating guardians and trustees for your minor children
  • minimizing estate and income taxes

Think about what you want to accomplish based on your unique situation and then together we can utilize and refine the tools best suited to accomplish your objectives.

Complete an Estate Planning Information Form

We ask potential clients to complete a confidential estate planning information form before our first meeting. Our form helps potential clients consider and gather the information that we will need to have a productive meeting. The form prompts prospective clients to start thinking about some of the decisions that will need to be made as part of creating an estate plan.

Our estate planning information forms and a FAQ can be found here. For information on how to get started, click here.

Image courtesy of Flickr via Missouri Southern