You have scheduled your first initial consultation with your estate planning attorney. What should you do to prepare for this meeting to be the most efficient use of your time and the attorney’s time? Estate planning is all about you and your family and your assets.
One of the first questions you can expect your attorney to ask you is who the members of your family are. Your family may include your spouse and your children. Perhaps you do not have children, but you have brothers or sisters and nieces and nephews. It is useful for the attorney to know whether your children are married, how many children they have, and where they live. Your attorney may also ask you what they do for a living. Knowing how long you have been married and what you did for a living are also relevant questions that pertain to your estate planning.
Next, your attorney will ask you about your assets. You should bring to the meeting a list of your assets and the approximate value of each account. The type of account is sufficient for this first meeting, such as a money market account or an annuity. Eventually, you may be asked to provide more detail and beneficiary forms after a plan has been determined. The total value of your estate helps the attorney establish whether you need to do estate tax planning.
You should expect your attorney to ask you who you want to administer your estate upon your death and who you want to step into your shoes to handle your finances and health care if you become incapacitated. Most clients usually name a family member to act for them. If you do not have a family member you trust, then consider close friends or trusted advisors. It is not unusual to have a disinterested third party settle your estate, such as a corporate trustee. A corporate trustee can be a bank, credit union, or your attorney.
Also expect your attorney to ask you who you want to leave your assets to upon your death. Clients often leave their assets to family members. You need to think about what percentage they should receive and how they should receive the money. Perhaps, your children are minors right now. You should think of an age that you want them to be able to control their inheritance. Or even if you have adult children, you can also leave your assets to them in a trust. Some examples of trusts for children are incentive trusts, spendthrift trusts, divorce protection trusts, or special needs trusts. Your attorney will ask you whether or not you think your beneficiaries are responsible and whether or not they are facing a disability.
Finally, you need to have a backup plan in place. After you determine who should settle your estate, I want you to think of a backup person in case your first choice is not available. I also want you to start thinking about who should receive your money if your primary beneficiary dies before you. A comprehensive plan should span several generations to cover different circumstances that may occur in your life before you die.
At Sinclair Prosser Gasior, we value legacy planning and preserving wealth through sound estate planning advice to clients with an emphasis on avoiding probate and minimizing taxes.