“While most initial meetings with an estate planning attorney will result in some questions you likely have never considered, there are many ways in which you can prepare for a thoughtful and productive estate planning conference that will result in a better understanding of your goals and more efficient use of time with your attorney.”
Preparing to meet with an estate planning attorney for the first time is an opportunity to get organized and think about your wishes for the future. If you meet with your accountant every year to prepare tax returns, this may be a familiar process. It’s a chance to step away from day-to-day activities and focus on your life, as described in a recent article “Preparing for an Estate Planning Consultation: 10 Items to Consider Before Meeting Your Attorney” from The National Law Journal.
Minor Children Need Guardians and Conservators. In most states, families with minor children need a last will to designate one or more guardians to raise the children in the event both parents die. A successor should be named in case the first named guardian is unable or unwilling to serve. Discuss your decision with the people you are naming; don’t leave this as a surprise. Choosing these people is a hard decision. However, don’t let it be a reason to delay creating your estate plan. It’s better that you name a guardian, rather than let the court make that decision.
Agents, Trustees, and Power of Attorney. With a Durable Power of Attorney, your assets can be managed by a named agent if you become incapacitated. The person who manages your estate after death is the executor. They are named in your last will. If you have trusts, the documents that create the trust also name the trustees. It is possible for one person to act as a fiduciary for all of these roles, although the tasks can be divided.
Health Care Proxy and Health Care Agent Designation. If you are incapacitated, a Health Care Proxy or Health Care Agent can make medical decisions on your behalf, including following your instructions regarding life saving or life ending decisions.
Personal Property. Personal property, whether their value is sentimental or monetary, should be addressed in your will or trust to spare your heirs from squabbles over your personal effects, large or small. If you own a business or real estate, they also need to be addressed in your will or trust.
Charitable Donations. If you are charitably minded, your will is one way to make bequests and build a lasting legacy. Charitable donations can also be made to gain tax benefits for heirs.
Beneficiary Distributions. The beneficiary designation is the unsung hero of the estate plan. By managing beneficiary designations while you are living—updating beneficiary designations, assigning beneficiary designations to all accounts possible—you take assets out of your probate estate and smooth the asset distribution process. However, there are some wrinkles to consider.
Minor children may not receive assets until they become of age—18 in most cases. Do you want your children (or nieces or grandchildren) to receive an inheritance while they are still in their teens? Proper estate planning includes trusts created so a responsible adult can manage the trust on a minor or young adult’s behalf. Your trust can also be structured so the money may only be used for college expenses, or when the children reach certain ages.
Surviving Pets. You can plan for your pet’s care if you pass away or become incapacitated before they die. Most states permit the creation of a pet trust, an enforceable means of providing assets to be used for the care and well-being of your pet.
Your estate planning attorney will be able to provide you with a list of the documents she will need to get started on your estate plan, but these are the major issues that you will be discussing at your first meeting.
Reference: The National Law Journal (Feb. 23, 2021) “Preparing for an Estate Planning Consultation: 10 Items to Consider Before Meeting Your Attorney”
For more information on asset preservation and estate planning, please visit my estate planning website.