Whether you’re a newlywed or a retiree, you should have an estate plan. An estate plan is more than a will alone. An estate plan consists of multiple documents underlining the “whos,” “whats,” and “hows” of the management of your finances, assets and family matters in case of your absence.
The first step is often the hardest- deciding to make an appointment to talk to a lawyer about your estate plan. Most of the time, we find that once you take that step, the rest of the process is much easier than the process you went through in the first place to take that step.
As opposed to the average firm that may ask their clients to come prepared with countless document copies and tough decisions already made, our team offers guidance through every step of the process. In preparation for your first estate planning session, we came up with a brief list on how you can prepare to meet with us, which does not involve making a painstaking and detailed inventory of everything in your life, but simply organizing your thoughts so that we can better help you get the plan in place that gives you peace of mind.
Write Down Your Questions
Before the initial meeting, we suggest that clients write down any questions they may have for us. We encourage our clients to think of us as a resource. We want you to be comfortable asking us anything (especially how you can avoid probate and taxes!). As your estate planning lawyer, it’s essential for us to build a rapport, forming a deep understanding of what you need and the best way to handle your affairs.
Some questions we frequently hear from our estate planning clients include:
You don't have to have the answers to these questions for your first estate planning session, but knowing what is on your mind is a big help to us as we think about the plan that best meets your needs and addresses your specific concerns.
Visualize Your Family’s Future
Second, we’d like our clients to think about the future. What assets do you have and want to leave behind for your loved ones? What should become of your children and household after your passing? Who in your family is qualified to make financial decisions and medical decisions if you’re incapacitated?
With a comprehensive estate plan, these matters are addressed adequately. You’ll receive the proper guidance on specific choices and how to handle your requests, including care for children, a particular property, and choosing your power of attorney. Clients aren’t required to have all of the answers to these questions, but they are helpful to consider beforehand.
Involve Your Spouse
You may be the one tasked with actually coming to the appointment, but these conversations should also involve your spouse. Most likely your ultimate estate plan will include reciprocal documents for each of you, in order to take maximum advantage of estate tax exemptions but also to make sure that the plan for your children is clear and settled, no matter which one of you passes first. If your spouse can't be at the initial appointment with you, then it is helpful to go through the exercise of writing down your questions together, so that when we meet we can have a complete picture of the issues your family is trying to resolve. You might also consider having your spouse available for a phone call when you have your first appointment, in case there are any questions about your options or how you move forward that you should both have a say in.
Consider End-of-Life Issues
Last, but not least, we strongly suggest that you think about your health care, funeral and burial wishes. These may be sensitive topics to consider, but they are important. Who you choose as a health care proxy should be someone who understands your wishes (for example, when do you or do you not want intrusive life-saving care), and who you trust to honor those wishes. It is also highly recommended to include your preferences with respect to final arrangements in a comprehensive estate plan. Including funeral arrangements in your will ensures your requests are honored and legally bound. It will also reduce the potential for family disagreements at an emotionally difficult time.
Clients may not come fully prepared for their first estate planning session, and that is okay. Our attorneys at SLN Law understand. We work with you to gather all paperwork and documentation needed as we walk through the process together. We also offer your first consultation free of charge. Estate planning doesn’t have to be overwhelming, not with our help!