What to Expect When Planning Your Estate
Everyone thinks about planning for the future and what they will leave behind for their children at some point. While we don’t want to dwell on our demise, no one wants to leave their spouse or children with the daunting task of managing their affairs without some instruction.
Many people don’t know what to expect when talking to an attorney, or what they need to know to get started. Attorneys can be rather intimidating to most people. While that is great in a courtroom, you need to feel comfortable in discussing often upsetting and difficult topics. If you need help selecting the attorney that is right for you, read our post about what to consider when hiring an attorney. Once you find the right one for you, the best place to start is to schedule a free consultation to discuss your specific needs.
If you have an appointment scheduled, you will need to gather some information and documents to take to your appointment. If you have a prior Will or Power of Attorney, be sure to bring that for review. If you have some information about your assets and debts, that can be helpful. Often, a simple diagram of your family tree can help a lot for us to understand who we are trying to help, and what issues we may need to address.
When I meet with people, I like to spend the first appointment just getting to know the situation and exploring the person’s stated wishes. Most people come to me and state clearly what they want from the outset. But as we discuss further, going through multiple scenarios, there are a lot of other decisions to be made. Often their needs are better met by something a bit different from what they asked for initially. This is the biggest danger I see in the online forms. People firmly believe they know what they need. If an attorney does nothing but prepare documents without analyzing the various legal implications of their choices and confirming these are the potential outcomes they are selecting, then the attorney serves no purpose. You should always expect to have at least two meetings with the attorney. The first to discuss your intentions and wishes, and the second to execute documents to achieve those goals. It is not unheard of for me to meet with people or at least have phone calls where they have made choices for other questions that came up in the first meeting.
Once all of the documents are prepared, the attorney should go over the specifics with you in detail. Sometimes this can be a bit boring or overwhelming as it involves a lot of legal language, but it is important to fully understand what you are signing. Once the paperwork is approved, there may be witnesses and a notary who join you to observe the actual signing. Not all documents require these witnesses, but many do need them. Particularly when signing a Will, the formalities being properly observed will save a ton of frustration for the person trying to execute your wishes down the road. After everything is signed, the attorney should give you the originals of the documents and keep only a copy for their records. It is important that you keep up with the original documents, retain them in a safe place, and let the person you have nominated to perform functions on your behalf know where they are.
One final thing I recommend to everyone is to call a family meeting. Let everyone know that you have executed documents, and roughly what the contents of those documents are. Give everyone one chance to ask questions or voice concerns so that you may address them. Only have this discussion with the entire family out in the open. I find there are far fewer conflicts and legal battles later on if everyone hears it at the same time directly from the individual. And fewer legal battles means less trauma for your family, more unity and support, and ultimately, less of your estate going to attorneys. You worked hard to get what you have to pass on to your loved ones, and we believe it is important for your assets to be distributed as you have intended.