An estate planning consultation is not everyone’s idea of a good time. In some cases, people have put off estate planning for years – if not decades. Discussing the taboo triad of aging, death and money makes people uncomfortable. Yet, there is nothing morbid about planning for the future. Clients tell us that checking estate planning off their to-do list gives them an overwhelming feeling of relief and peace of mind.
Find an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney
Find an experienced trust and estate attorney who practices estate planning. A general practitioner is not going to understand the nuances of trust and estates law. A good way to vet an attorney is through the county and state bar associations, peruse google reviews or ask a trusted professional for a referral. If you are a senior, accreditation from the National Association of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) or Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA) indicates that the attorney specializes in the field.
Preparing for an Estate Planning Consultation
When preparing for your first estate planning consultation, a good place to begin is an inventory of your assets. An estate planning attorney will provide a questionnaire to fill out before the meeting that will help you organize. Assets include:
- other real estate interests
- bank accounts
- investment accounts
- business interests
- life insurance policies
- retirement accounts
- jewelry and other heirlooms
In addition to your assets, you should provide your attorney with information relating to your income. Income includes salary, retirement distributions, interest and dividends on investments, pensions, and social security benefits.
You should also be prepared to provide contact information for beneficiaries and fiduciaries. If you have prior estate planning documents – bring them with you or send ahead of the appointment so that the estate planning attorney can advise whether you need to update or replace outdated documents. If you own a business – the attorney will ask for a copy of the shareholder agreement or buy-sell agreement.
What to Expect at the Consultation
During the consultation, the attorney will review everything provided. You can expect to talk in-depth about your family situation, finances, beneficiaries, and long-term goals. It is your opportunity to ask questions about the attorney’s experience and determine whether you are a good fit. Estate planning attorneys are comfortable working with estates of all sizes – it is a misconception that only the wealthy have estate plans. Everyone who owns a house or a bank account has an estate – and everyone can benefit from planning for incapacity.
Depending on your circumstances, the attorney may discuss Wills versus Trusts, federal and state estate taxes, capital gains, and asset protection. From there, the attorney will present you with different estate planning options that best suit your specific needs. At Burner Law Group, we quote you a flat fee so you can ask as many questions as you like and we can work to craft a plan that is tailored to your specific needs. There may be additional meetings to iron out details, hold a family meeting, or to make updates when goals change. Although an estate planning attorney does not provide financial advice, we often work with a trusted team, including an accountant or financial adviser, to help achieve your estate planning goals.
Some of the decisions you must consider are:
- Who do you want to make medical and financial decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so?
- If you have a minor child, who will you name as a guardian and what age should your child inherit?
- Are you looking to protect assets in the event you need long-term care?
- Upon your death, how do you want your assets divided?
- Are any of your beneficiaries disabled or have drug or alcohol problems?
- Do you have pets that will need a home?
Working with a knowledgeable attorney ensures you are providing for your family’s future. As time goes on, the laws or your personal circumstances change, which may affect your estate plan and require an update to your documents. Estate planning attorneys work to keep their clients ahead of changes in the law so it is important to choose an attorney whom you trust for the long haul.