Prepare to Meet With an Estate Planning Lawyer

You want to do everything you can to prepare for your family's future. You hope to provide your children and other loved ones with everything they need when you are no longer here. Meeting with an estate planner for legal advice is an important step in this estate planning process.

An estate lawyer can get to know you and your goals and prepare legal documents to meet your needs. To do the best possible job when preparing your estate plan, your attorney will need information about you and your assets.

Gathering as much information as possible before your initial meeting with an estate attorney will speed up the process. The attorney-client relationship you establish at this meeting may be one you can count on for a lifetime.

Engaging an Attorney

When seeking help in estate law from an attorney, you may wonder what it will cost. Don't hesitate to ask about the costs near the beginning of the first meeting. You can even ask for information about fees during your preliminary research stage. You do not have to wait until the first meeting.

The attorney should break down their fee structures by either an hourly rate or a flat fee. The flat fee will depend on your estate planning goals and the particular estate planning documents you need. Your attorney should expect to provide fee information, so ask them. You should have this information going into the estate planning process.

Goals of Estate Planning

It is crucial to understand all the goals you can accomplish in the estate planning process. Transferring real property, bank accounts, and investment accounts to your loved ones is the most obvious goal. But you can accomplish more. Other goals include:

  • Do you want to provide financial support for a loved one with a disability or illness? A special needs trust can meet that goal while you're alive and after your death.
  • People of all ages and income levels should prepare health care directives. These documents tell family members about their wishes for medical care. A health care power of attorney gives someone decision-making authority over health care matters in case of incapacity.
  • Likewise, would you want someone to be able to pay your bills and handle your finances if you could not? Identifying a trusted fiduciary to whom you can give limited or durable power of attorney will do that.
  • Are you concerned that transferring your assets might get delayed in the probate process, creating a hardship for your family? Setting up a revocable trust is one way to keep your assets out of probate. However, there are other ways to make the process easier for your beneficiaries.
  • Do you want to shelter assets from taxation during your lifetime? These taxes can include estate taxes for those who are very wealthy or inheritance taxes in states where applicable. An irrevocable trust can accomplish this while keeping your estate out of probate court. Your professional services team — which may include a financial advisor, an accountant, and an estate planning lawyer — should be well-versed in tax law impacting your estate.

Information for Your First Meeting

Before your first estate planning meeting, take some time to think about your goals. Your estate planning lawyer may provide a questionnaire to guide you as you determine the relevant information for the meeting. You'll need to provide the following details to the attorney and consider these questions:

Family Information

  • Name and date of birth
  • Contact information
  • Mailing address
  • Phone numbers
  • Email address
  • Marital status (typically married, unmarried, widow or widower, divorced, or married person establishing a separate trust)
  • Children's names and dates of birth (you will need to indicate whether children are adopted, stepchildren, or from a previous marriage)
  • Any deceased children? Did a deceased child leave any children of their own?
  • Do you have an existing last will and testament? (If yes, provide your attorney with a copy.)
  • Have any children received an advance on their inheritance?
  • Are any children financially indebted to you?
  • Is there any reason to treat your children other than equally?
  • Are any of the children financially irresponsible?
  • Are any of the children under a disability?
  • Have you been married previously?
  • If any child should die before a parent, should their share of the estate pass through to their children? (If yes, you will need to provide grandchildren's names and dates of birth.)
  • In the event of your death, who should be the guardian of your minor children? (A guardian has physical and legal control over your children until they reach age 18. You typically name a first and second choice for guardianship.)
  • Other pertinent family information or additional explanations of family concerns

Trust Information

  • Do you wish to have a living trust established for your spouse or children?
  • If you want a living trust, indicate who the trustee(s) should be. (A trustee manages your children's or other beneficiaries' assets until they reach specified ages. If you do not establish a trust, children inherit at age 18. You may name an individual, a bank, a trust company, or more than one of these.)
  • Any terms of distribution for beneficiaries (e.g., education, marriage, etc.)?
  • Ages(s) for distribution to children from the trust (e.g., one-third of the total at age 21, one-third at 25, and the final third at 30)

Personal Representative Information

  • Who should be your estate's personal representative ("executor")? (A personal representative is responsible for probating your will, paying your debts, collecting your assets, and settling your estate.)
  • First choice (your spouse is commonly named first)
  • Second choice

Specific Requests

  • Do you want your will to refer to a separate list of any specific bequests of personal property? (You can change such a list without changing your will.)
  • 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?

Other Estate Planning Tools

  • Are you interested in preparing a financial power of attorney? (This grants another person the authority to act on your behalf to manage your assets and pay your bills if you become incompetent or incapacitated.)
  • Are you interested in preparing a health care directive ("living will") stating your preference for health care if you are in a terminal condition?
  • If you are executing a living will or health care directive, you will need to give your primary physician's name and address
  • Are you interested in preparing a health care power of attorney granting another person the power to act on your behalf if you become incompetent to make medical decisions?
  • Do you have any special requests regarding funeral or burial instructions or organ donation? If so, this is best handled by a letter of instruction or other statements from your will to your family or another responsible person.

Information Regarding Assets

  • Married couples will need to indicate if they have separate assets or if they hold all assets jointly.
  • What's the estimated net worth of the estate?
  • What cash or cash-equivalent accounts are held at financial institutions? (Typically this means checking and savings accounts or certificates of deposit with banks, savings and loans, or credit unions.)
  • How many different financial institutions do you have accounts with?
  • Do you have a financial planner, investment advisor, or insurance agent?
  • Do you have any investments (typically cash or money fund accounts or certificates of deposit with stockbroker firms)?
  • How many different broker firms do you use? (This typically entails stocks, bonds, and mutual funds where your broker holds the certificates and sends you periodic account statements showing your account balance.)
  • How many different stock brokerage firms do you use? (These usually come into play with mutual funds where you deal directly with the issuing company rather than through your stockbroker.)
  • How many different mutual fund companies do you use?
  • Do you own stocks and bonds (other than U.S. savings bonds) for which you hold the certificates in your possession?
  • How many different companies/issuers do these have? (Typically U.S. savings bonds, Treasury bills or other government securities, or limited partnerships are included.)
  • How many limited partnerships? (Typically oil and gas royalty or working interests)
  • How many? (Such as oil and gas mineral rights)
  • How many parcels of land?
  • Any other securities?

Retirement Plan Information

  • Do you have any individual retirement accounts (IRAs), Keogh plans, or other individual plans providing tax deferment for deposits and income?
  • How many different financial institutions hold IRA accounts for each spouse?
  • Do you have any employer-provided profit-sharing, retirement, or other benefit plans?
  • How many different plans exist for either spouse?

Real Estate Information

  • In what state is your personal residence located?
  • How many parcels of real estate do you own besides your personal residence?
  • In what state(s) are these parcels located?
  • Are you purchasing any of the above properties on a contract?

Business Interest Information

  • Do you own a business, or are you a partner in a business?
  • Is the business organized as a corporation?
  • How many corporations are there, and how many of those are subchapter S corporations?
  • Is the business organized as a partnership?
  • How many partnerships are involved?
  • Is the business a sole proprietorship?
  • How many different firms are there?

Receivables Information

Typically this is any money owed to you as payments on contracts. Receivables may include:

  • The sale of a business
  • A payment on obligations secured by real estate
  • A note you hold based on loaning money to someone

Indicate each type of indebtedness you hold, and identify all other relevant parties involved.

Life Insurance Policies

Life insurance can play a critical role in taking care of your family in the event of your death. In preparation for your meeting, consider the following:

  • Do you have life insurance policies?
  • Indicate the name of the person insured, the name of the insurance company, the face amount of the policy, and the type of policy.

Annuities Information

  • What is the name of the annuitant and the type of annuity?
  • Do not list annuities under which no benefits are payable after the death of the annuitant.
  • Are there regular annuities payable for a guaranteed minimum term or amount?
  • Are there any tax-deferred annuities?

Personal Property Other Than Automobiles, Trucks, Boats, and Trailers

You may be surprised at how much personal property you own. Take an inventory to determine whether you have any special instructions for how you want particular pieces of personal property distributed at your death. Personal property may include:

  • Household furniture and appliances
  • Collections, art, antiques, valuable jewelry
  • Recreational vehicles
  • Motor homes
  • Business machinery and equipment
  • Personal equipment and tools
  • Farm or ranch machinery and equipment (other than general household tools)
  • Livestock

You should list any other relevant questions to ask your attorney about the estate planning process.

Related Resources

Contact an Attorney to Get Help Planning Your Estate

An estate planning attorney can answer critical questions and explain how your state's laws will affect your situation. Get started on creating your estate plan by contacting an experienced estate planning attorney near you today.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • DIY is possible in some simple cases
  • Complex estate planning situations usually require a lawyer
  • A lawyer can reduce the chances of a family dispute
  • You can always have an attorney review your forms

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