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Estate Planning Questionnaire

In some cases, you may need to seek the counsel of an experienced estate planning attorney to help you through the process of making an estate plan. You can DIY your estate planning documents from home for simple estates or less complex situations. This article can help you know what questions to expect in the online DIY estate planning process.

To do the best possible job creating your estate plan, you and any attorney need to understand information about your family and assets.

When you create your documents online or at your first meeting with your attorney, you should be prepared to provide the following information listed in this estate planning questionnaire.

The Purpose of Preparing Estate Information

Your DIY form process or lawyer will use the information you provide, so it must be as accurate as possible.

If you are uncertain about the exact information, tell your lawyer that, and give your best assessment. If your lawyer or the online form process believes that exact information is required, they will ask you to be more precise.

You can expect the following questions to be asked by an attorney or in your online form process. We recognize that these types of questions can feel pretty intrusive.

However, keep in mind that the more complete the information is, the better it will equip you throughout the planning process. Honest information will help you come up with the best possible estate plan.

Feel free to print these questions and fill them out before you start or review them to understand what to expect in the estate planning process.

Personal and Spousal Information

State the names requested below exactly as you want them to appear in your will and other estate planning documents.

  • Your name and date of birth
  • Spouse's name and date of birth
  • Home address
  • Contact information like phone number and email
  • Are you a United States citizen? If not, of what country are you a citizen?
  • Is your spouse a citizen of the United States? If not, in what country are they a citizen?

Children

  • Your children's names and dates of birth
  • Your children's spouses and dates of birth
  • Your children's children and dates of birth
  • Is there any reason to treat your children unequally?
  • Are any of the children financially irresponsible?
  • Are any of the children under special needs or disability support?
  • If any child should predecease a parent, should their share pass through to their children?

Step-Children

Which of your children is your child but not your spouse's (Or vice versa)?

Adopted Children

List the date and place of adoption of any adopted child.

Deceased Children

  • List any deceased child and the date of the child's birth and death (and their surviving spouse and children if applicable)
  • For any deceased children, specify if the child is from a prior marriage, adopted, etc.)
  • Does this child have a spouse?
  • Does this child have any children?

Previous Divorces

  • State the name of each prior spouse
  • Are any ex-spouses still living?
  • If either you or your spouse has been divorced be prepared to attach a copy of the divorce decree

Medical Concerns

Is there other important personal information that might affect your estate plans?

For example, does a family member have a serious long-term medical or physical problem that will require special care or attention in the future?

Financial Assets: The Basics

The following questions do not require detailed responses. For example, shares in publicly traded companies might be shown simply as "common stocks."

On the other hand, greater detail will be helpful for property interests that are more or less unique, such as interests in real estate.

Do you have a financial planner, investment advisor, or insurance agent? Be sure to know their contact information.

Who Owns Which Assets: The Basics

You or your attorney may use the following abbreviations to describe certain attributes of particular assets:

  • JT = Joint tenancy with right of survivorship
  • TE = Tenancy by the entirety
  • TC = Tenancy in common
  • H = Husband's name alone (some forms are moving away from gendered spousal terms)
  • W = Wife's name alone (some forms are moving away from gendered spousal terms)
  • LT = Land trust
  • FMV = Fair market value (or your best estimate)
  • CV = Cash value of life insurance policy
  • PV = Proceeds of life insurance policy

Real Estate Property: The Basics

You need to know all real estate locations with a complete address. You also need to list:

  • How the title is held
  • The character of the property, e.g., residence, shopping center, apartment house, or similar description

Real Estate

  • Personal residence address
  • Description (e.g., single family, condo, or co-op, similar description)
  • How do you hold the title?
  • Fair market value?
  • Mortgage balance?
  • Do you have mortgage life insurance?

Additional Real Estate

  • Other personal residences or vacation home addresses
  • Description (e.g., single family, condo, or co-op, similar description)
  • How do you hold the title?
  • Fair market value?
  • Mortgage balance?
  • Mortgage life insurance?

Financial Assets: Personal and Household Effects

If you think the general categories do not provide an adequate description, please provide additional detail.

Also, be sure to state your best estimate of the value of each kind of property and who owns it (how you hold the title):

  • Automobiles
  • General personal and household effects such as furniture, furnishings, books, and pictures of no special value
  • Valuable jewelry (indicate if insured)
  • Valuable works of art (mark if insured)
  • Valuable antiques (mark if insured)
  • Other valuable collections, e.g., coins, stamps, or gold (indicate if insured)
  • Other tangible personal property that does not seem to be covered by any of the other categories

Cash, Cash Deposits, and Cash Equivalents

State the name and address of each bank or institution and who owns each item:

  • Checking accounts, including money market accounts
  • Spouses' checking accounts (if held jointly)
  • Ordinary savings accounts
  • Certificates of deposit
  • Short-term U.S. obligations (T-bills)
  • Pension & profit-sharing plans, IRAs, ESOPs, or other tax-favored employee-benefit plans
  • Pension plans vested and current value
  • Profit-sharing plans
  • Profit-sharing plans vested and current value
  • Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs)
  • Other tax-qualified employee benefit plan interests

Life Insurance

  • Ordinary life insurance
  • The face value of policies (proceeds)
  • If you do not own it, who does?
  • Beneficiaries for life insurance
  • Cash value
  • Loans against life insurance
  • Amount of accidental death benefits (if any)

Term/Group Term Insurance

  • The face value of policies (proceeds)
  • Owner other than you
  • Beneficiaries
  • Accidental death benefits

Please supply similar information for other life insurance or other insurance having life insurance features.

Life Insurance on Your Spouse's Life

  • The face amount of ordinary life insurance
  • Policy owner other than a spouse
  • Beneficiaries
  • Cash value
  • Loans (if any)

Closely Held Business Interests

Describe any interest you have in a family or other business with limited shareholders:

  • The nature of the business
  • Form of organization (e.g., corporation, partnership, or the like)
  • Are you active in its operations?
  • Estimate of its value
  • If it is a corporation please indicate whether an "S election" is in force for the federal taxation of the corporation
  • Do you believe the business would continue to operate successfully after your permanent absence (or the permanent absence of some other key person)?

Investment Assets

For each category, please state the owner (how the title is held) and the approximate value:

  • Publicly traded stocks and corporate
  • Municipal bonds
  • Long-term U.S. Treasury Notes and bonds
  • Limited partnership interests
  • Please describe the general nature and value of other investment interests
  • Other interests of current or future value

Interests in Trusts

Describe any trusts created by you or any other person, such as a parent or ancestor. A trust is an account in which you or a member of your immediate family has a right to receive distributions of income or principal. This can apply whether or not such distributions are actually being received or anticipated in the future.

Be as specific as you can. If possible, submit a copy of the trust agreement. If the trust agreement is not available, you should show:

  • The date the trust was created
  • Whether it can be amended or changed
  • Whether someone has a power of appointment over it
  • When the trust terminates
  • Who will receive the trust property upon termination
  • State the approximate current value of the trust and the annual income from it

Anticipated Inheritances

You need to know if you or any other immediate family members are likely to receive substantial inheritances in the foreseeable future. This could be from persons other than yourself or your spouse.

Describe your best estimate of the value and the nature of each inheritance

Other Assets or Interests of Value

For anything that doesn't fit in any categories above, please describe:

  • The general nature of the asset
  • The form of ownership
  • Your estimate of the value

Liabilities

You will need to describe substantial financial liabilities not reflected in the asset information you have provided above.

If they are secured, indicate the nature of the security. Also, show any substantial contingent liabilities, such as personal guarantees you have made on obligations of a business, a family member, or any other person.

Indicate whether you have insured against any of these obligations in the event of your death. This also applies if the obligations don't survive your death.

Personal Estate Planning Objectives

Consider the following questions as part of your planning:

  • How would you dispose of your estate at your death if there were no such thing as estate or inheritance taxes?
  • Would your spouse or children be likely to receive income from sources other than your estate? An example of this is a spouse continuing or resuming their career.
  • Describe any personal objectives you have for your family and your estate. Do these override possible adverse tax consequences arising from trying to achieve them?

Guardians for Minor Children

If you have minor children, you may designate in your will a guardian or "guardians of the person" and their estate. This is useful in the event of your death and/or your spouse's death. A guardian has physical and legal control over your children until they reach the age of eighteen.

You will need to list:

  • Guardian of the person's name and address
  • Guardian of the estate's name (if different) and address
  • Substitute guardian of the person's name and address
  • Substitute guardian of the estate's name and address

The Executor or Personal Representative

Your executor is responsible for winding up your affairs at your death. They will see that your assets are collected.

It is also their role to pay claims, expenses, estate, and inheritance taxes and then distribute your property to trustees or others you have named.

It is a task of limited duration, substantial responsibility, and much work. You will need to list:

  • Principal executor's name and address
  • Substitute executor's name and address

Trustees

Your trustees are responsible for the long-range management of the property. You can decide what property and assets are held "in trust." Anything in the trust is used to benefit the beneficiaries of trusts you may create.

Depending on the terms of the trust, there may be adverse tax consequences if a trustee has an interest or possible interest in the trust. Usually, if the trustee's discretion is limited, those negative tax consequences are similarly limited.

A trustee can be a corporation (qualified to act) or an individual. You may choose to have co-trustees, one of which may or may not be a corporation.

Choosing a Corporate Trustee

Because corporate trustees must charge fees for their services, they may decline to accept small trusts. Their prices to administer a small trust may be disproportionately large if they are to cover their costs in handling the trust.

Picking Your Trustee

Choose a trustee with integrity, mature judgment, fiscal responsibility, and reasonable business and investment acumen.

If you wish to select co-trustees, you may want to choose them for how well their individual strengths complement each other.

Frequently, the same person(s) or corporation selected as executor(s) may be designated as trustee(s).

You will need to list:

  • Principal trustees' names and addresses
  • Substitute trustees (to act if one or more of the principal trustees cannot or will not act) names and addresses
  • Terms of distribution (child receives education, upon their marriage, etc.)
  • Ages(s) for distribution to children from the trust (Ex.: 1/3 at age 21, 1/3 at age 25, 1/3 at age 30, etc.)

Other Matter and Factors

You will need to describe or list any facts or matters that do not seem to be covered by the other sections of this questionnaire. Anything that you believe may be important for your estate planning attorney to know is key.

Community Property

You need to know if you now live in or have lived in a community property state. This also applies if you own real estate in one of these states.

You will need to indicate the state and whether you and your spouse have a legal agreement on whether that property is separate property.

Powers of Attorney

Have you given a power of attorney to your spouse, child, or any other person? A power of attorney authorizes them to do either specific things on your behalf or generally act on your behalf.

If so, you need to be able to list:

  • POA's name and address
  • The nature of the power (specific or general)
  • Date POA was created
  • The location of the document granting the power

Living Will or Health Care Directive

Have you signed a document indicating your wishes concerning health care? Generally, this meant "heroic" or extraordinary measures to save your life. This can apply due to a catastrophic illness or injury.

If not, would you like to do so by creating a living will? You will need to list your primary physician's name and address.

Health Care Power of Attorney

Have you signed a document specifically authorizing another person (such as your spouse) to make health care decisions for you? These choices are for your health care if you cannot do so.

If not, would you like to do so by creating a health care power of attorney? You will need to list your primary physician's name and address.

Specific Requests (Also Called Bequests)

Do you wish to make a separate list of any specific bequests in your will? Typically these are items of personal property you want to give to children or others.

The advantage of such a list is that you may change it without changing your will. You should also consider:

  • Do you wish to make any charitable bequests?
  • Do you have a safe deposit box? If so, where?
  • Does anyone else have access to your box?

Funeral or Burial Instructions

  • Do you have any special requests regarding funeral or burial instructions?
  • Are you approving organ donation?

If so, this is best handled by a Letter of Instruction or other statements from your will. It will leave instructions to your family or another responsible person.

Need More Assistance? Get a Free Attorney Match.

Getting the correct estate planning information isn't one of the things you can skimp on in life.

An estate plan will be crucial to your family's financial success should something happen to you. But the good news is that FindLaw can match you will an estate planning attorney for free and help you get a free initial consultation today.

Planning your estate is one of the best things you can do for your loved ones. For instance, not having a will can create additional hardship for your family when you die. To ensure that your family is well taken care of after you're gone, you may want to speak with a local estate planning attorney to get help with your estate planning.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:

Next Steps

Contact a qualified estate planning attorney to help you ensure that your loved ones are cared for and your wishes are honored.

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