OK, great! You’ve finally decided it’s time to meet with an estate planning attorney and get your affairs in order. It’s time to make sure your family is protected.
Now that you’ve scheduled the first appointment, what’s the next step? You can do one of two things: (1) Simply wait for the questionnaire to arrive from your Estate Planning Attorney’s office, or (2) Start getting yourself organized and prepared to fill out the questionnaire and make the first meeting ultra-productive.
Before you meet with your attorney, taking the time to sort through your important papers and get your thoughts in order will save you a lot of time in the long run, make it much easier to fill out the questionnaire, and go a long way to making the meeting productive and valuable. Otherwise, the meeting will become a fishing expedition for your attorney and both tedious and confusing for you.
Here are several ways to get yourself organized and prepared:
1. Make a complete list of your assets and liabilities (then you’ll just have to transfer them all onto the questionnaire in the appropriate places).
a. List what you own (e.g., bank accounts, investment accounts, real estate, retirement accounts, and life insurance). Fortunately, you do not need to make a list of your personal property.
b. Jot down and verify how you own it (e.g., in your sole name or in joint names with your spouse or someone else such as a child or sibling).
c. Indicate whether you have already designated a beneficiary for the account or policy.
d. Record how much you owe (e.g., mortgages, car loans and credit cards).
2. Think about who you want to inherit your estate, when they’ll inherit it, and how they’ll inherit it.
There are many ways to pass your property to beneficiaries, including outright, in stages (such as after college or after getting married), at specific ages, or in lifetime discretionary trusts.
It’s wise to consider the advice of your attorney, but, at the very least, think about each beneficiary’s current needs and what they may need in the future.
3. Think about who you want to be in charge if you become incapacitated or die.
Along with naming Guardians for any minor children you may have, deciding will serve as your fiduciaries (including the Executor and alternate Executor of your Will, Trustee and Successor Trustee of any Trusts you’ll need, Power of Attorney and Successor, and Health Care Proxy and Successor) are some of the most important decisions you will need to make.
Why? Because if you choose the wrong person for the job, or if someone you choose declines to serve or can’t serve, the estate plan that you have so carefully put together will come to a grinding halt.
If you’re like most people, you’ll need the advice of your attorney to choose the right people or institutions to serve as your fiduciaries, but think about which family members or friends will be good candidates – and which will not.
It’s a lot to think about and organize, but it will be well worth it. As the kids say “You got this.”