Meeting with a lawyer is one of the first steps to forming your estate plan and putting together your will and trust.
An attorney who has years of experience and specializes in estate planning can assist you throughout the process and help ensure that you have all bases covered and can avoid inheritance conflicts.
But to be able to provide the counsel you need, your lawyer will require all kinds of information, from details about your personal life, finances and assets to your related goals, so you need to prepare accordingly.
Information to be provided
Many law offices will give you a list of documents to bring and a questionnaire to fill out before your first estate planning meeting. This is your chance to think through different aspects of your estate plan and to gather and compile all necessary files. Taking care of these in advance will help make the meeting easier for both parties.
The information that you will need to provide to your attorney usually relates to you and your family, your accounts and properties, and your plans and priorities. Common questionnaire items include:
- Information about your family: names, ages and contact details of your partner or spouse, children, grandchildren, and other relatives who will serve as guardians, be designated as fiduciaries or be listed as beneficiaries (e.g., siblings, parents, nephews, nieces, cousins)
- Information about your non-retirement assets: titling and order of magnitude of your bank accounts, annuities, bonds, mutual funds, stocks and U.S. treasury notes
- Information about your retirement savings: asset type, corresponding employer or institution, and pension and beneficiary details of IRAs, 403(b)s, 401(k)s, 457s, TSPs and Roths
- Information about your life insurance: insurer, exact amount of death benefit, policy type, ownership and beneficiary details
- Information about your real estate properties: ownership interest (joint, sole, tenants-in-common), outstanding mortgage balance, market value and address of your main residence, vacation home, and any rental, business and investment properties you personally own
- Information about tangible personal property such as antiques, art, automobiles, jewelry, family heirlooms and other things with intrinsic value
- Information about inheritance you currently have or are expecting or receive as well as present or future interest in a trust, if any
- Information about your business interests: type (e.g., closely held, family-owned, limited partnership) and location of any business you own or run
Things to consider
In addition to having the questionnaire and documents ready, you should consider or look into the following matters, which you can discuss in detail with your lawyer during the meeting.
- Who will receive and who should not receive your property
- Heirlooms that you would like to stay with your family
- The executor of your will, the trustee for your trusts, the appointed guardian of your minor children, and corresponding alternates in case the person you pick for the job is unable to fulfill his or her role
- The creation of a living trust along with a Durable Power of Attorney for health care
- If you will assign someone powers of attorney over your financial affairs
- Whether you will leave anything to a charitable organization, a church or a university or are interested in donating body parts to science
- Instructions and arrangements for your funeral
- Special circumstances that may affect your estate plan like a child from a previous relationship or marriage, an heir who has a disability, or a marriage agreement
- The estate planning documents that will be included so you can request for an accurate estimate
- Estate taxes that may be imposed so you can ask if there are ways to avoid these or, as with income taxes, minimize the amount you are required to pay
- Overall goals and other wishes for your estate plan
This list is just an introductory guide to estate planning requirements. You may be asked to furnish additional information for your first meeting based on specific trust and estate laws. But taking the time to go through the items mentioned here can help speed up the process and make it more efficient. With proper and sufficient preparations, you can look forward to a comprehensive and personalized estate plan.