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 to worry, however. This meeting is just a conversation in which your attorney will find out about you, your family, and your goals. After you’ve shared this information, your attorney will be able to recommend a range of estate planning tools, 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 you questions about you, your family, and your finances. Some of the areas of your life that you may need to share about are those that can impact the type of planning 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 planning documents, and
- Which people you want to put in charge of your money, your children, and other important aspects of your life in case you die or become disabled.
Sometimes, clients have personal situations they are hesitant to share with anyone, even their attorney. If this is your situation, the questions your attorney asks may seem uncomfortable or intrusive. The reason these questions are asked is so that your attorney knows what issues to anticipate. This way, he or she can help you plan around them.
For example, you might be reluctant to talk about a child born out of wedlock years ago. First and foremost, remember that the information you tell your attorney will remain confidential unless you give permission to disclose it. Second, the reason your estate planning attorney needs to know about this child is to design a plan that accomplishes your goals. If you don’t want that child to receive part of your estate, your attorney needs to include language in your estate plan disinheriting that child. Otherwise, he or she may be entitled to a portion of your estate that you’d planned to leave for your spouse or your other children.
Making the Right Choice
Your initial estate planning meeting is also a chance for you to decide whether this particular attorney is a good fit for you. You’ll want to find out a little about your attorney’s background and education, paying special attention to 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 requirements that are often more stringent than the standards imposed by the state. You may choose 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 at ease? Do you get to do enough talking, or does your attorney cut you off or talk over you? Do you feel that your questions are taken seriously and answered in a way that you fully understand?
One of the best ways to ensure you’ve chosen the right attorney is to make sure that you’re comfortable talking to him or her and you feel that he or she respects you and takes your concerns seriously.
Putting Your Plan in Place
After your attorney gathers all your information, he or she will review your goals with you and discuss the best strategies for achieving those goals. The two of you will agree on the appropriate strategies, and your attorney will put together a set of documents that carries out these strategies. For example, your attorney may draft a living trust to help you maintain control of your assets during your lifetime, while keeping those assets out of probate at your death. He or she may also draw up powers of attorney to designate who will make financial and medical decisions for you, if you become unable to handle these matters for yourself.
Your attorney’s job is to put together a plan that achieves your goals, and to ensure you understand how it works. When you leave your initial meeting, you should know the basic framework of your estate plan as well as the basic purpose for each part of your plan. You should also know what to expect from the estate planning process: the next steps and whose responsibility they are.
After you choose the right estate planning attorney and establish an estate plan tailored to your needs, you’ll be able to breathe a sigh of relief knowing your future is secure!
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