Creating an estate plan is a personal and often emotional undertaking, making the selection of your estate planning attorney of the utmost importance. Here are some questions you should ask your estate planning attorney to determine if they are the right person for the job.
Why did they pick estate planning as their practice area?
At its core, estate planning is a personal endeavor. Many estate planning attorneys have personal experiences that influenced their decision to specialize in this area. Asking this question can help you get to know your attorney and their reasons for practicing the way they do. These attorneys are passionate about their work and happy to share their background and the experiences that brought them to choose estate planning as their practice area. If the attorney you are considering has no particular reason for choosing estate planning, then perhaps you should keep looking.
What is their process?
If you have never done any estate planning before, the unknown of the process can be somewhat intimidating. Getting an answer to this question may help alleviate some of your fears because you will know exactly what is going to happen. The estate planning process can vary quite a bit depending on the attorney and their level of planning. For example, some attorneys may meet with a client only once prior to signing documents and then do not have any additional contact with their clients after signing the documents unless the client initiates it. Other attorneys have multiple meetings prior to signing the documents and additional follow-up meetings afterwards. Knowing what the attorney's process looks like will help you determine whether the level of service they will provide is consistent with your expectations, know how long the process will take, and understand what to expect along the way.
What information do they need from you?
Estate planning relies heavily on you providing complete and accurate information. In fact, the failure to disclose certain information, such as all of the accounts and property that you own, debts or other obligations, or the existence of family members, can completely derail an entire estate plan. Some attorneys will rely on the information they glean from conversations with you while other attorneys will want to see supporting documentation, such as copies of deeds, account statements, insurance policies, etc. It is important that the attorney communicate what information will be needed and provide you with adequate time to collect the information.
Do other people have to be involved?
Because estate planning is such a personal process that requires the disclosure of highly sensitive information, it is good to know whom your attorney plans to involve in the process. Some people are very uncomfortable discussing their private affairs with others and want to limit the disclosure of this information to as few people as possible. If you are married and you are wanting to create a joint estate plan, then your spouse will need to be involved in the process. There is really no way of getting around this, as many laws require the disclosure of certain information to one's spouse.
Beyond your spouse, there are few other people who have to be involved. You may have trusted advisors, such as a financial planner, a certified public accountant (CPA), or an insurance agent, who have information that can help in the estate planning process and whom you may want to involve in the process to ensure that it goes smoothly. For example, a successful estate plan requires the proper coordination of the legal documents prepared by your estate planning attorney and the beneficiary designations on your accounts (such as retirement accounts) and insurance policies. Your attorney can work together with your financial and insurance advisors to ensure that your beneficiary designations are correct and make any necessary updates to them. Your CPA can also be invaluable in helping you understand the interplay of income, estate, and gift taxes and working with your attorney to ensure that your tax savings are maximized to the fullest extent possible. Although these advisors can play an important role, your attorney may be able to limit the amount of information that they share if there are specific details about your estate plan that you do not want divulged to your advisors.
Children do not need to be involved, and in some instances, should not be involved. Although it can be helpful to give adult children an overview of what your estate plan looks like and how it will work after your estate plan is completed, it is not necessary that you involve your children in the decision-making process. And if your adult children have strong opinions or if siblings do not all get along, then your children should not be involved in the estate planning process, as this will only be an invitation to challenge your estate plan on the grounds of undue influence later on.
Asking these questions of your potential estate planning attorney will help you get to know the attorney and better understand their process, the level of service they will provide, and their professional experience. Ultimately, the answers to these questions can help you determine whether the attorney is a good fit for you and your needs. If you are interested in moving forward with your estate plan, please give us a call and let us answer these questions for you.