Your first meeting with an estate planning attorney may seem a little daunting,especially if you’ve never consulted an attorney before. There’s no need toworry, however. This meeting is just a conversation in which your attorney willfind out about you, your family, and your goals. After you’ve shared thisinformation, your attorney will be able to recommend a range of estate planningtools, helping you tailor a plan that meets your needs.
Getting to Know You
At the start of your consultation, your estate planning attorney will ask youquestions about you, your family, and your finances. Some of the areas of yourlife that you may need to share about are those that can impact the type ofplanning you’ll need to protect your assets and family, including:
- Whether you’re married,
- How many children and grandchildren you have,
- Whether you’ve had any previous marriages,
- Your age and the ages of the people in your family,
- What assets you own, the value of those assets, and how they’re titled,
- Whether you currently have a Will, a Trust, or other estate planningdocuments, and
- Which people you want to put in charge of your money, your children, andother important aspects of your life in case you die or become disabled.
Sometimes, clients have personal situations they are hesitant to share withanyone – even their attorney. If this is your situation, the questions yourattorney asks may seem uncomfortable or intrusive. The reason these questions areasked is so that your attorney knows what issues to anticipate. This way, he orshe can help you plan around them.
For example, you might be reluctant to talk about a child born out of wedlockyears ago. First and foremost, remember that the information you tell yourattorney will remain confidential unless you give permission to disclose it.Second, the reason your estate planning attorney needs to know about this childis to design a plan that accomplishes your goals. If you don’t want that child toreceive part of your estate, your attorney needs to include language in yourestate plan disinheriting that child. Otherwise, he or she may be entitled to aportion of your estate that you’d planned to leave for your spouse or your otherchildren.
Making the Right Choice
Your initial estate planning meeting is also a chance for you to decidewhether this particular attorney is a good fit for you. You’ll want to find out alittle about your attorney’s background and education, paying special attentionto whether he or she meets the state’s continuing education guidelines.Organizations like the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys(www.aaepa.com) require that their members meet continuing education requirementsthat are often more stringent than the standards imposed by the state. You maychoose to begin your search for an attorney on their website.
You also want to be comfortable with your attorney. Does he or she put you atease? Do you get to do enough talking, or does your attorney cut you off or talkover you? Do you feel that your questions are taken seriously and answered in away that you fully understand?
One of the best ways to ensure you’ve chosen the right attorney is to makesure that you’re comfortable talking to him or her and you feel that he or sherespects you and takes your concerns seriously.
Putting Your Plan in Place
After your attorney gathers all your information, he or she will review yourgoals with you and discuss the best strategies for achieving those goals. The twoof you will agree on the appropriate strategies, and your attorney will puttogether a set of documents that carries out these strategies. For example, yourattorney may draft a living trust to help you maintain control of your assetsduring your lifetime, while keeping those assets out of probate at your death. Heor she may also draw up powers of attorney to designate who will make financialand medical decisions for you, if you become unable to handle these matters foryourself.
Your attorney’s job is to put together a plan that achieves your goals, and toensure you understand how it works. When you leave your initial meeting, youshould know the basic framework of your estate plan as well as the basic purposefor each part of your plan. You should also know what to expect from the estateplanning process: the next steps and whose responsibility they are.
After you choose the right estate planning attorney and establish an estateplan tailored to your needs, you’ll be able to breathe a sigh of relief knowingyour future is secure!