The meeting with your attorney will give you an opportunity to think about your wishes for the future and get organized. It is not unlike preparing for a meeting with your tax accountant for your tax return if you do so. You need to come with certain questions and your supporting documents.
Below are a few questions that you will likely be asked by your Estate Attorney in your meeting:
#1 Who do you want to be your Executor? This person will be named in your Will. He or she will act as your fiduciary. It is an important role and an important decision for you.
#2 If you become incapacitated who do you want to make decisions for you? This person will be named your agent under a Power of Attorney for Healthcare. He or she will also be the person to enforce your preferences under the terms of your Living Will.
#3 You will need to decide what your wishes are with regard to the terms of your Living Will. This document tells healthcare professionals what should be done if you are in a permanently unconscious or terminal situation. Essentially your choices are between being kept alive, even in a vegetative state, or allowing you to die a natural death if, in the opinion of medical advisers, you cannot be revived.
#4 The issue of Personal Property will also come up. The distribution of these items, whether sentimental or monetary, will be specified in the Will. Doing this carefully will spare your heirs from potential squabbles over your personal effects. Of course, if you own a business or real estate, they will need to be addressed in somewhat more detail and you should be prepared to describe your wishes.
#5 If it is your intent to make a Charitable Donation with part of your estate, you should plan to bring this up in the meeting. There may be tax benefits for your heirs with proper planning.
#6 Should you be in a situation where you have responsibility for any minor children, they must have Guardianship defined in your Will. This is not an easy decision and should be considered carefully before the meeting.
#7 Many of your cash accounts allow for beneficiary designations stating who gets the proceeds from the accounts. When you utilize these, the recipients can avoid probate entirely. There are a few wrinkles in this arrangement when the beneficiary is under the age of majority – usually 18. At this point you need to discuss a Trust arrangement with your Estate Attorney. You will need to name a trustee for the minor children. The Trust can designate when the child can access the money; either when a child achieves a certain age or for specifically college expenses as examples.
#8 One other item to discuss with your Estate Attorney is the issue of pets, if you have any. You may have a designated caretaker with whom you have an agreement. You can also in many states create a pet trust to provide assets for the care and well-being of your pet.
#9 In addition to the answers to the questions above, your Estate Attorney will ask you for certain documents and information. The more information you can bring to the meeting the lower the cost of the consultation and the quicker your attorney can put your Estate Plan together.
Here is a list that will help you prepare:
- A list of your assets. It does not have to be an accountant-prepared balance sheet, but knowing the types and values of your assets and a rough idea of your current total net worth will be very helpful.
- Contact information for your beneficiaries and agents. Collect the addresses and phone numbers for anyone you name as a beneficiary. Also if you have people who will serve your estate like Trustees, the Agent under your Powers of Attorney or Guardian should you have minor children contact information about them is critical also.
- Prior documents. Collect your existing estate planning documents if you have any. These might include including Trusts, Wills, Durable Powers of Attorney, Patient Advocate Designations and Living Wills, Deeds and/or Land Contracts, and Assignments of Interest and, if applicable, divorce documents.
While all of this sounds daunting, providing your Estate Planning Attorney with as much information as possible will reduce the time and cost associated with preparing your documents and giving you the mental freedom and your own “Independence Day”.