Prepare to Meet with an Estate Planning Lawyer

In order to do the best possible job when preparing your estate plan, your estate planning attorney will need information about you, your assets, and most importantly, your estate planning goals. Gathering as much information as you can before your initial meeting will speed up the process.

It's especially important to understand all of 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 there are many more things you can accomplish:

  • 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 are alive and after death.
  • People of all ages and income levels should prepare health care directives to tell family members about their wishes for medical care and a medical power of attorney to give someone decision-making authority in case of incapacity.
  • Likewise, would you want someone to be able to pay your bills and handle your finances if you were unable to do so? Identifying a trusted fiduciary whom you can give a limited or durable Power of Attorney will do that.
  • Are you concerned that the transfer of your assets might get delayed in probate, creating a hardship for your family? Setting up a revocable trust is one way to keep your assets out of probate, but there are others.
  • Do you want to shelter assets from taxation during your lifetime? An irrevocable trust can do that while also keeping your estate out of probate court. Your estate planning lawyer is well versed in tax law.

Information for Your First Meeting

Before your first estate planning meeting, take some time to think about these goals and then gather the following information to bring with you. The attorney-client relationship you establish at this meeting may be one you can count on for a lifetime.

Family Information

  • Name and date of birth
  • Mailing address
  • Phone numbers
  • Email address 
  • Do you have an existing will(s)? (If yes, provide your attorney with a copy)
  • Marital status (Typically married, unmarried, widow or widower, unmarried, divorced, or married person establishing a separate trust)
  • Children's names and date of birth (You will need to indicate whether children are adopted, stepchildren, or from a previous marriage)
  • Any deceased children? Did this deceased child leave any children?
  • Have any children received an advance on their inheritance or 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 predecease a parent, should their share 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 the age of eighteen — you typically name a first and second choice)
  • Other pertinent family information or additional explanations of family concerns

Trust Information

  • Do you wish to have a trust established for the benefit of your spouse and/or children?
  • If yes to the above, please indicate who the trustee(s) should be. (A trustee manages the assets for your children or other beneficiaries until they reach specified ages. If you do not establish a trust, children inherit at age eighteen. You may name an individual, bank or trust company, or both.)
  • Any terms of distribution? (Such as education, marriage, etc.)
  • Ages(s) for distribution to children from the trust (Ex.: 1/3 at age twenty-one, 1/3 at age twenty-five, 1/3 at age thirty) 

Personal Representative Information

  • Who should be the Personal Representative ("executor") of your estate? (A Personal Representative is responsible for probating your will, paying your debts, collecting your assets, and settling your estate.)
  • First choice (Spouse is normally named first)
  • Second choice

Specific Requests

  • Do you wish to make reference in your will to a separate list of any specific bequests of items of personal property that you wish to give to children or others? (The advantage of such a list is that it may be changed 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 power 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 Medical 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 all assets are held jointly
  • The estimated net worth of the estate
  • Cash or cash-equivalent accounts held at financial institutions (Typically checking and savings accounts, or certificates of deposit, with banks, savings, and loans, or credit unions.)
  • How many different financial institutions do you have?
  • 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? (Typically stocks, bonds, and mutual funds where your broker holds the certificates and sends you periodic statements showing your account balance)
  • How many different stock brokerage firms? (Typically mutual funds where you deal directly with the issuing company rather than through your stockbroker)
  • How many different mutual fund companies?
  • Stocks and bonds (other than U.S. Savings Bonds) where you hold the certificates in your possession?
  • How many different companies/issuers? (Typically U.S. Savings Bonds, treasury bills or other government securities, or limited partnerships)
  • How many limited partnerships? (Typically oil and gas royalty or working interests)
  • How many? (Such as oil and gas mineral rights in land)
  • How many parcels of land?
  • Any other securities

Retirement Plan Information

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

Real Estate Information

  • What state is your personal residence located in?
  •  How many different parcels of real estate do you own, other than your personal residence?
  • What state(s) are these parcels located in?
  • Are you purchasing any of the above properties on a contract for deed?

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?
  • How many corporations are subchapter S corporations?
  • Is the business organized as a partnership? 
  • How many partnerships? 
  • Is the business a sole proprietorship?
  • How many different firms?

Receivables Information

Typically this is any money owed to you as payments on contracts. You need to have sold a business, as payment on obligations secured by real estate, or where you have loaned money to someone and you hold a note.

  • Indicate each type of indebtedness that you hold (Typically promissory note(s) secured by real estate, installment contract(s) of sale of personal property, or unsecured promissory note(s))
  • 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

  • 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?
  • Any tax-deferred annuities?

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

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

You should make a list of any other relevant questions to ask your attorney.

Related Resources

Contact an Attorney to Get Professional Help Planning Your Estate

An estate planning attorney can answer key questions about the law and how your situation will be impacted by your state's laws. Get started on creating your estate plan by contacting an experienced estate planning attorney near you today.

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
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