Is it time for your first meeting with an estate planning attorney? The first meeting can be a stressful event.
If you prepare for the first meeting, it gives the attorney time to tailor time to the client’s specific needs.
To best prepare, clients should think about their estate planning goals generally and gather relevant information and documents to assist the attorney in implementing an estate plan that accomplishes those goals.
What to think about
Before attending your first estate planning meeting with an attorney, clients should give some thought to the following issues:
1. Personal representatives or trustee. One of the most important decisions is determining who will administer the estate upon your death.
You will need to name a person or people to handle your affairs and distribute assets in accordance with wishes at your death.
2. Power of attorney and medical directive/patient advocate designations. Decide who will step into your shoes to handle both finances and health care in the case you become incapacitated.
A power of attorney is a written document naming another person to have the power to make financial decisions on your behalf. A durable power of attorney continues in effect even upon your potential incapacitation. Additionally, you can choose whether the power of attorney is given immediately or only upon your incapacitation.
A power of attorney can be given broad or limited powers depending on your preferences. Therefore, it is important to choose a power of attorney wisely, seeking someone who is trustworthy, responsible and in tune with your wishes.
In addition to determining a power of attorney, you should determine your patient advocate, who is empowered to make medical decisions on your behalf if you become unable to participate in those decisions yourself. For example, you can give your patient advocate power to consent to or refuse medical treatment, or arrange for care in a hospital or nursing home.
3. Disposition of assets. Upon death, people often leave their assets to their family members and close friends. You can give specific items or amounts of money to named beneficiaries, give percentages of your estate to named beneficiaries, or you can give a combination of both percentages and specific items.
In addition to naming beneficiaries, consider who you would like to receive your assets in the event your primary beneficiary predeceases you.
4. Succession planning. Business owners need to plan for their estate even more than the average person. If you are a sole proprietor, the most common form of agricultural business ownership, then it is important to set forward a clear plan for what should happen to the business when you die. If you want to pass on the business, it is important to think about beginning to delegate and prepare a successor who wishes to take on that role.
5. Minor children. If you have minor children, there are a few additional questions you should be prepared to address.
The inheritance you leave minor children will need to be managed for them until they reach either age 18 or the age you designate for distribution. Consider whether you want to leave that inheritance to your children outright when they reach the age of 18, or if you want greater control over the management of that money, which can be achieved by holding the inheritance in a trust for the benefit of your children until they reach an age you deem appropriate for them to receive some or all of their inheritance. If you want your children’s inheritance to be under greater control in a trust, you should consider who you want to manage that trust.
Often, residents can appoint a guardian for their minor children in writing and for the court to honor a guardianship appointment. If the child’s parents predecease the child, you will need to carefully think about the life and circumstances of the potential guardian and their ability to adequately care for any minor children.
6. Family information. Be prepared to give your attorney information about your family, including full names, ages and contact information for your spouse, children, stepchildren and grandchildren. In the case your parents, siblings or other extended family members are involved in your estate plan, their information will be needed as well.
What documents to bring
Leading up to the first estate planning meeting, there are also some tangible documents you should gather and bring to the meeting.
These documents will allow your attorney to create an estate plan suitable to your specific situation and goals:
- any existing estate planning documents you have executed before the meeting
- deeds to any real estate you own
- organizational documents for any business in which you hold an ownership interest
- life insurance information, including the type of policy, the ownership and the company who provides the insurance and beneficiary information
- retirement savings information, including but not limited to 401(k)s, 403(b)s, 457s, IRAs, TSPs, inherited retirement savings, and any potential pension information
- non-retirement asset financial information, including bank accounts, investment accounts, stocks, bonds and U.S. Treasury notes
- information regarding inheritances, including any current or anticipated inheritances or any current or future interests you may have in a trust
- up-to-date personal financial statement, if you have one available.