Booking your first estate planning meeting is a must.
Whatever life stage you are at, it is never too early to seek advice about getting your estate in order. It makes things easier and simpler in the future.
Many people believe that, unless they own huge sprawling mansions or complicated trust funds, they have no need to consult an estate planning attorney.
But in fact, your estate is anything and everything that you own.
If you are still waiting for just the perfect time to get things in order, that time might never come.
The thought of having to get pretty much your whole life organized and out in the open can be overwhelming.
Where do you start?
We have prepared a checklist of items to consider before your first estate planning meeting, to help it run as efficiently and effectively as possible.
The first thing that you should do is ask! Your estate planning lawyer works for you and will be more than happy to let you know if there is anything specific that would help them.
Get in touch with the office and speak to a secretary to get some information up front. That is what they are there for.
In order to get the most out of the session, your attorney needs to understand what your ‘estate’ is actually made up of.
You need to establish what your assets are, what share you are entitled to and what those assets are worth.
The most common areas that you will be asked to gather information about are:
Your property is likely to be your biggest asset in your estate. It is therefore essential that you have specific information to hand so that you can receive the most accurate advice.
Firstly, you will need to let your attorney know if your property is owned in your sole name or jointly. If it is owned jointly, they will need to know whether that is in equal shares or something else. Recalling when you purchased it and the price you paid at the time will also be useful.
The value of your property will need to be established. This means the value of your property now, not when you bought it.
If you have no idea what it is worth, it would be sensible to ask a local realtor to come and take a look and provide you with an appraisal. Making the effort to carry out this work before your meeting will be invaluable.
Money in Bank Accounts / Investments
This might sound obvious, but not everybody checks their accounts or investments on a regular basis.
Bringing up-to-date statements to the meeting will give your attorney a clear picture of your assets as they are now.
As with properties, it is also relevant whether the accounts are in your sole name or shared with someone else. The statements will help to clarify that.
If you do not want to bring the actual bank statements with you, or they are kept online, you could create a simple table which lists the type of account, the amount it holds and whether it is in joint names.
Your attorney is also interested in any items of value that you own.
Think about anything that you insure or that is kept in a safe. Importantly, the relevant value here is what the item could be sold for second hand, rather than what you purchased it for.
As with property, it is worth doing your homework before your meeting so that you can turn up with as full a picture as possible.
Do you own a Rolex watch? Antique clock? Diamond necklace? Get them valued.
Less valuable possessions, which are saleable, also add value to your estate as a whole, which could potentially have tax implications.
However, you do not need to worry about getting every single item that you own valued, just give some thought to what the rough valuation is, so that you are not caught out on the spot if we ask for this.
Life insurance policies that pay out on death could help to cover your tax bill.
It would be beneficial to bring along any policy documents to your estate planning attorney so that these calculations can be added into the mix of discussions.
Additionally, oftentimes if you have nominated a beneficiary to receive a large sum of money from your life insurance policy, you might choose to focus on distributing your estate to others in your Will.
Now that you have a more detailed idea as to what you are worth, take some time to create a clear understanding of your goals.
These will be different for everybody so do not worry if they don’t fit into a specific mold.
Are you worried that the inheritance you pass on to your children might be lost through their divorce or separation?
Do you want to protect assets in the event that you become disabled or unable to manage your finances yourself?
Is the amount of potential tax distressing you?
Has there been a significant life event which has prompted you to seek advice, such as the birth of a grandchild or receipt of inheritance?
Whatever your reason for choosing to book a meeting now, being analytical and up front about your aims will help you get tailored and specific advice.
As we have outlined, it is true to say that the purpose of the first meeting is partly for your legal advisor to get to grips with your estate and ask any questions they need in order to best advise you.
However, the meeting is also for you to ask questions too. It would be great for you to come away having increased your knowledge, either about the law, the law firm, or even yourself.
You can ask for an opinion about how often your estate plan will need to be evaluated. This will be different for everyone.
Does your attorney think that the current advice will last the test of time or can they envisage certain circumstances in which it would need to be updated? If so, what are they?
Will you need to come back in two, five, or ten years’ time?
If you have children under 18, you should ask whether there is any additional documentation you need to prepare, to protect them in the event of your death. For example, to appoint a Guardian.
Finally, make sure that you leave the meeting with an understanding of how your lawyer works.
Will you be charged a fixed fee or for each hour that is spent on your file?
How will your lawyer communicate with you moving forward – email, phone or another meeting?
Any information gathered at these early stages saves crucial time once you are ready to get the ball rolling.
Hegwood Law Group specializes in estate planning. We are passionate about advising you through the estate planning journey using real language for real people.
No question is too small or insignificant. You can book your first estate planning meeting by calling us at (281) 885-8826 or schedule online here.
Hegwood Law Group