Discussing what to do with your assets and affairs can be uncomfortable. This is especially true when you’ll be expected to face the prospect of mental or physical disability or eventual death. Fortunately, you can turn to the expertise of an estate planning attorney.
The first meeting with a lawyer to discuss and plan your estate may seem daunting and stressful – especially if you’ve never consulted with one before.
Estate planning doesn’t begin and end by simply drafting a last will and testament.
In today’s post, we’ll discuss the following items to help you maximize your meeting with an estate planning attorney:
- What to bring to your meeting with an estate planning lawyer
- What questions to ask your estate planning lawyer
- What to expect during your first consultation
What Is Estate Planning?
In a nutshell, an estate plan details your own instructions and guidelines about the following:
- Leaving your assets
- Avoiding or minimizing estate and inheritance taxes
- Bypassing the probate process
- Specifying your healthcare instructions
- Indicating your final arrangements
The core of planning your estate is to determine what will happen to your assets either when you die or unable to make cognitive decisions anymore.
You can also give clear instructions on what will happen to your children, your property, taxes, bypassing probate, and your healthcare directives while you are alive, and what happens to your body after you pass (funeral, burial, etc.)
Simply put, estate planning helps establish finely-tuned and customized instructions on how you want your affairs managed should you pass or are incapacitated.
Do I Need an Estate Plan?
Most of us overlook estate planning and preparing a will. It’s mainly due to the discomfort of talking with an estate planning attorney about incapacitation risks or eventual demise or brings.
It’s no wonder roughly have of the people in the country don’t have a will – let alone an estate plan.
You don’t have to be rich to require an estate plan. Your estate includes every single thing that you own. No matter what size it is – an estate planning attorney can help you take time to plan and prepare for what happens to your assets.
Many think that having an estate plan focuses on what needs to be done when you pass away. However, one of this process’s essential components is to include instructions for when you become incapacitated.
If you become incapacitated, injured, or unable to manage yourself, a financial power of attorney lets you appoint someone to oversee your financial affairs.
However, before appointing someone for this role, make sure you consult with an estate planning attorney or your financial advisor about the power and limitations of a power of attorney.
This arrangement can go into effect immediately the moment you can’t make decisions for yourself anymore.
On top of that, you can appoint someone a power of attorney for healthcare. This appointment is also referred to as a healthcare proxy. A living will and HIPAA authorization permit an individual to make critical healthcare-related decisions on your behalf.
Estate Planning Checklist
Prepare an Inventory of Your Assets
Many people think they don’t need an estate plan because they don’t have enough to justify getting one.
However, when you start taking stock of all the tangible and intangible properties you have, it may surprise you just how much you own.
The tangible estate includes the following:
- Homes and other real estate assets
- Valuable collections such as rare coins, art, pieces of jewelry, trading cards, sports memorabilia, and antiques
- Other personal valuables
The intangible estate includes the following:
- Bank account (checking and savings accounts)
- Certificates of deposit
- Stocks, mutual funds, bonds,
- Life insurance policies
- 401(k), individual retirement accounts, and other retirement plans
- Health insurance accounts
- Business ownership
Once you know what tangible and intangible assets you have, figure out what the total estimated value.
Consider the Needs of Your Family
Once you estimate your assets, determine how it can provide for your family when you are gone. Your estate planning attorney will need your input on the following:
How much life insurance do you have?
Your life insurance information is particularly essential if you have special needs children or college tuition expenses. It’s also essential to factor in if your current lifestyle needs dual-income or if you have a monthly mortgage bill.
Who would you like to appoint as guardian for your children?
Name a guardian – and backup – for your children when you write your will.
What are your wishes concerning your children’s care and wellbeing?
Never assume that your family members will take responsibility for your children. You should also not assume that they share your goals and ideas on raising your children.
On top of that, it’s not ideal that the family court will side by your wishes.
Create Your Legal Directives
An estate planning attorney will help you establish your legal directives. This process includes:
- A living trust lets you assign parts of your estate to go towards certain areas while you are alive. If you become incapacitated, your appointed trustee will manage your estate. When you die, the assets will be transferred to your beneficiaries according to your wishes.
- A healthcare directive, also referred to as a living will, enumerates your wishes for health and medical care if you can’t make those decisions by yourself anymore. You can also appoint a trusted person to make these decisions for you if you cannot.
- A financial power of attorney permits an individual to manage your financial concerns if you can’t anymore. Your appointed individual can make legal and financial decisions on your behalf.
- A limited power of attorney regulates the authority of your appointed representative over your affairs.
Appoint Your Beneficiaries
Make sure the right individuals get your assets. People often forget the beneficiaries they have named, especially if it appointed many years ago.
For instance, if your former spouse is your appointed beneficiary on your life insurance and you have since remarried, it will be bad news for your current spouse. Also, it would be helpful to name a contingent or backup beneficiaries.
Consult with an Estate Planning Attorney
It’s normal to be overwhelmed with the whole process of planning your estate. Thus, it’s worthwhile to consult with a legal professional.
An estate planning attorney can help guide you in the right estate planning direction. Consulting with one is particularly beneficial if you reside in a state with complex inheritance or estate taxes.
Questions to Ask an Estate Planning Attorney
If you decide to hire an estate planning attorney, you need to know how to properly vet one. We’ve prepared some helpful questions you can ask at any stage of your quest for an estate lawyer.
What is your experience in estate planning?
We highly recommend you hire an estate planning lawyer who has at least three years of experience in trusts and estates.
Ask them if they have worked with clients with similar financial circumstances to yours. Furthermore, if your situation is unique, such as having beneficiaries with special needs, it would be beneficial to mention that and ask if they have experience in those concentrations.
What is your plan to ensure my plan is carried out?
There’s more to an estate lawyer than merely helping you create a plan. A reliable estate planning attorney will do an extensive follow-through to ensure that your estate plan is implemented based on your wishes.
What is your opinion on probate? Does it apply to my assets?
First of all, run the other direction if an estate attorney recommends putting your assets through the probate process.
Probate is the legal process of verifying the contents of a deceased person’s will.
If you didn’t prepare a will before you die, the state will appoint an administrator for your assets.
Your assets can’t be distributed to your intended beneficiaries until it passes probate.
This is not ideal. Court fees are not cheap. On top of that, your personal affairs will have to be scrutinized.
If an estate attorney is in favor of probate, he or she doesn’t have your best interests. Find a different lawyer.
What is your rate for creating an estate plan?
Most estate planning lawyers charge a flat fee for smaller estates. However, if you have a bigger and more complicated estate, you may be charged an hourly rate.
If you are given an hourly rate, ask for more details about the billable hours.
Do email replies count as billable hours? Will you get an update on your fees as you go?
Most attorneys charge a flat fee during the estate planning and creation stage. They will then change to an hourly rate to do the maintenance tasks on your estate or to conduct probate (when needed).
Ask about the important questions about fees first so there are no surprises down the road.
Who should I contact at your firm when I need assistance, and you’re not available?
This is an important piece of information to have in an emergency. This is also a good opportunity to ask about the firm’s succession plans if something happens to the legal professional handling your estate.