8 pieces of information to bring to a meeting with an estate planning attorney

So you are planning to meet with an attorney about an estate plan.  Are there any questions you have for the attorney?  Do you have any concerns that your attorney should know about? A good place to start would be considering the reason you sought out an attorney.  What motivated you to set up a meeting?  Also, there is wide range of information that the attorney will need to competently meet your needs, so be prepared for him or her to ask you a multitude of questions, some of which may seem rather personal in nature, but which are aimed at giving the clearest picture of what you hope to achieve by creating an estate plan.  What follows is information that you should be prepared to discuss at length in your consultation. 

1. The reason you are considering an estate plan:  

This can be due to a recent death in the family, hospital stay or diagnosis, or change in familial relationship that can be the catalyst for pursuing this option, but explaining this to your attorney can help them make note of your needs, as well as a time-frame for preparing your plan if your situation is time-sensitive.  Some common examples include upcoming medical procedures or international trips, and your attorney will need to know what time-table is available to complete your estate plan. 

2. A list of goals for your estate plan

Do you have a specific bequest you want honored?  A family bible, hunting rifle, or dish set?  How about helping your grandchildren with a down payment on each of their first home purchases?  Tuition aid for descendants?  A Scholarship fund for your alma mater?  A good attorney will look forward to any challenging request you have, and the specific goals you want him or her to help you achieve.  He or she may even be able to point out an easier way to meet your needs to make your family’s future more secure. 

3. Current list of immediate family members:  

Please be sure to note their relationship to you, their age, and feel free to make a note regarding the level of trust you have for any person in particular.  For example, you may not want a family member to be designated a Trustee, Personal Representative, or Attorney in Fact if that person has a history of financial mis-management or substance abuse. This is your game-plan, and your estate can be given to exactly whom you wish.  This information will also indicate to your attorney how extensive the estate plan will need to become.  

4. List of all real property you own or have any interest in, and its location(s):  

Do you own your home?  Do you have mineral interests in that property?  Any other family land you have a partial interest in?  Is the property in a different county than your home?  Do you have any real property interests in a different state than where you live?  A will or Trust can distribute property from a different state, but there may be hurdles specific to that state that need to be handled in the language of an estate planning document, and may require additional research for the attorney.

5. List of all types of investment/retirement accounts you own:  

Do you have an 401k, IRA(or a Roth IRA), or any other investment account?  Who is the named beneficiary on those accounts?  Do you have any annuities, and are they from investments or a settlement?  The type of accounts you own could have unintentional tax consequences to your beneficiaries, and you may want to make changes to your investments to tailor the dispositions to different people or entities.  

6. A list of concerns to discuss:  

These can range from any relationship issues between family members, to trust concerns with people around you, to concerns about what different estate plan options are currently accessible for you, and what information the public will be able to access.  Some other common concerns include a family member who has a history of substance abuse, or a mental disability, which will greatly change the way an estate plan will be structured.  It’s your attorney’s job to answer your questions directly, and give you truthful answers, and tell you if further research is needed before giving you an answer.  On the other hand, it’s your job to make sure your concerns are communicated to your attorney so that you do not reach the conclusion of your estate plan wishing it fixed a problem you were embarrassed to discuss.

7. A list of questions you have to better inform your estate plan:  

How does your retirement account affect your beneficiary’s taxes?  Does the New Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 change the best way to organize and plan your estate?  Bring it on!  We love challenging questions, and if we need to research your question before answering, the more we learn, and the better we can advise our clients. 

8. 4-5 adults that you trust the most:  

This may not seem important immediately, but many estate plans endeavor to look for a potential decision maker in the event you and your spouse are no longer alive or mentally competent, and a designation of several adults whom you trust is useful for determining who you would want to have act as Trustees, Personal Representatives, or Attorneys-in-fact in your absence or disability. 

Although some of this information is intimate, and potentially sensitive, all of it will be held in confidence by an attorney, and these items will be needed as you proceed planning your estate, whether you want a Will, Durable Power of Attorney, or a Trust and entire estate plan, and having this information handy will better enable your attorney to begin working immediately, and limit his or her need to bug you with further questions down the road.  Also, considering this checklist will likely help bring specific ideas to your mind that you may like to discuss when you meet with your attorney.

If you have any questions about any instrument of estate planning, be it a will, trust, deed, or anything else, our firm would love the opportunity to speak with you in a free consultation.  Please contact Les Bennett Jr. to schedule an appointment at 903-821-0821 or by emailing us at les@LBJlaw.net.

Are Estate Plans Only for Wealthy People?

Having spoken to many people about estate planning, I have been met with the same statement multiple times.

“A Will/Trust is probably a great idea for rich people.  I wish I was rich enough to need any of that.”

Imagine their surprise when they discover that estate planning isn’t only for wealthy people.  An estate plan is a valuable tool for anyone who has real property, any mineral interests, children, personal property with sentimental value, or any family members that they wish to pass anything on to.  Let’s look at how each of these is impacted by an estate plan.

Real Property: This one is a no-brainer, right?  If you have any land or buildings of any kind that you wish to pass to anyone, then an estate plan will allow you to designate who receives the property, and how much of the total interest each person receives.  Do you want to leave a vacation home to your 3 siblings in equal shares?  No problem.  How about a family home to your children?  Easy.

Mineral Rights: Mineral rights are considered a real property interest, so the same options from above are available.  Maybe you want to avoid having your children sell the home to split the proceeds between them, so you can choose to have one child receive the home, and the other(s) to receive mineral rights in some land that were passed to you from another relative.  This can make your passing easier on your family by making these decisions beforehand.

Children or Family Members:  I love my family, as I am sure you do as well.  But a sudden influx of funds or property may not be conducive to making smart decisions for either a young 18 year old, or another family member who may struggle with money management.  Imagine the setting; an 18 year-old suddenly loses his or her grandparent, parent, or other family member, and is given a sum of $10,000.  Would that money be better spent paying for tuition for college, or a down payment for a new car?  A Trustee with the discretion to make that judgement can help guide the young individual to the most prudent choice, whereas a straight-up distribution from a deceased person without a will or trust may allow the recipient to choose for him or herself.

Personal Property: Do you have a gun collection that your nephew would love to have?  A family Bible that the most sentimental of your children would appreciate?  These items could pass to your spouse or children equally by statute, so it would be beneficial to make arrangements to pass these to whom you wish if that deviates from whom the state dictates has a prior right.

All of the above concerns are not exclusive to wealthy individuals, and planning for your passing is a valuable way to mitigate the possibility of infighting among family members, who may mean well, but have conflicting interests at your passing.  Your passing will be a stressful event for your family, perhaps one of their most stressful they are likely to experience.  It would benefit them greatly to remove from their shoulders the weight of going through probate court to gain permission to distribute your estate “in the most equitable manner,” and make their eventual grieving as stress-free as possible.

The main goal of any estate plan seeks to send your assets at your death to whom you wish, rather than to whom the state determines has the right to your estate.

If you have any questions about any instrument of estate planning, be it a will, trust, deed, or anything else, our firm would love the opportunity to speak with you in a free consultation.  Please contact me to schedule an appointment.