Estate planning is the process by which you ensure that your assets are used to care for your loved ones, usually after your passing, and sometimes during your lifetime as well. Estate planning for our clients is a process of identifying goals, examining assets, talking through issues and possibilities, and ultimately crafting a plan that best balances your goals with a workable structure.
There are various issues to consider when creating an estate plan, and the order of priority depends on your goals. Will your estate be subject to estate tax? Who do you want to inherit your assets? Do those individuals get along? Do they have spending, marital, creditor, or health concerns? Are there charities involved? Minors? Are there second or third marriages in the family? What types of assets do you own? Do you have a business? These are just some of the questions that we will discuss during the planning process.
You may think that you need to have all of the answers before we meet. Not so. I do not expect you to know what you want for an estate plan. That is not your role. What I ask of you is to consider various questions and issues that I will raise and tell me your reactions. Sometimes our discussion enters difficult territory, and that is okay. I have heard just about everything and have seen all kinds of family dynamics. I listen without any judgment. Your estate plan is about you.
Most people like to know what is involved in the estate planning process and how I charge for services. Every estate plan is customized for the client, however the process generally has a consistent flow. Please read more about the estate planning process below.
Before our initial meeting, I will send you a memo and a questionnaire. The memo is intended to give you a sense of what we will discuss during our initial meeting. The questionnaire asks you questions regarding your family, your assets, and other relevant information that will aid our initial discussion and the development of your estate plan.
First, we meet and talk. We introduce ourselves, and talk about your family, your assets, and some of the things to think about for estate planning. If you are willing, I ask that you provide some information for our initial meeting, but this is not required if you are not comfortable or do not have the immediate time to devote to gathering your information. Sometimes we are able to identify an estate plan that fits your goals within this first meeting, especially if your needs are very straightforward. Other times we simply identify issues and questions for you to further consider. Typically, this meeting takes between one and two hours. After our first meeting, I will send you an engagement letter to formalize our attorney-client relationship and ask for a retainer. I generally charge on an hourly basis for all meetings, including the initial meeting. Fees for estate planning depend entirely on the structure of the plan, and we will discuss fees further at the initial meeting.
If we need more discussion, then we schedule additional meetings. During this time, we will meet to talk through all the issues and develop a plan that meets as many of your goals as possible. Sometimes we can sort out all of the remaining issues and come up with a plan during one additional meeting. Other times issues arise that I need to analyze, such as tax issues, and we need multiple discussions.
At the end of this development phase, I will propose to you an estate plan, which may include a will, one or more trusts, durable powers of attorney, health care documents, and others. I also will provide you with a likely fee range for the total project.
In this phase, I draft the documents that we discussed and send them to you for review. I ask that you please review the documents within a month or two, so that we keep the momentum going and all the issues stay fresh in both of our minds. We then schedule another meeting or call to discuss the documents.
Following the review meeting, I make any necessary changes to the documents. There is a possibility that, after you review the documents, you will want structural or other significant changes to the documents.
Once I have finalized the documents, we meet and sign the documents.
You may need additional steps to fully implement your estate plan. For example, you may need to change beneficiary designations of your retirement accounts and life insurance. If your plan includes a trust, you will need to “fund” the trust, i.e., transfer assets to the trust. Some clients like to handle this part on their own, and others prefer me to assist to make sure everything is done according to the plan.
Even once your estate plan is “complete,” it is not a static instrument. You should revisit your plan fairly regularly, especially upon the changes in assets, family members, tax laws, or even just the passage of time. As a very general rule of thumb, I recommend reviewing your plan at least once a year.
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