Creating an estate plan is an affirming process which allows you to control how your assets are managed at all stages of your life. It also enables you to express your wishes in writing; memorializing them during your life and after you are gone.
Prior to your initial consultation with an experienced estate planning attorney, it’s important to do some prep work to ensure the attorney has a complete grasp of your individual situation. A thorough estate plan takes into account a significant amount of information about your assets, family, property, and wishes.
Generally speaking, you should gather the following information before your first appointment with your estate planning attorney. Our firm has created two documents to help with this process: the Estate Planning Worksheet and the Funding Checklist. The paragraphs below outline the general information requested in these documents to help you better understand the process.
Think about where you are in your life, and what may have initially motivated you to want to make an appointment with an estate planning attorney. Often the stages of our lives will prompt us as to what our main goals are for the meeting. Did you just get married? Do you have small children? Are you thinking about your long-term care needs? Do you have elderly relatives that you need to provide for? Are you the owner of a business? Do you have measures in place for someone to handle your affairs if you become temporarily incapacitated? Have you had any major changes to your health or finances?
Understanding the factors that affect your decision to consult with an estate planning attorney will help your attorney to craft a plan that meets your needs.
List the names, birth dates, and ages of all immediate family members, specifically current and former spouses, all children and stepchildren, and all grandchildren.
If you have children with special needs, gather all information you have about their lifetime financial needs.
For all real property you own or can reasonably expect to acquire, gather the property description (i.e. deed), your ownership interest, the address, market value, any outstanding mortgage balance, and the most recent tax assessment.
For any personal property of value (such as vehicles, jewelry, coins, antiques, stamps, and art), compile a list that includes a description, the physical location of each item, your ownership interest, the market value, and any liens against the property.
If you have an ownership interest in any business, make sure you have documents proving such ownership interest, the business location, the names and contact information of other owners, and 2-3 years of past profit and loss statements.
Compile a list of all your financial accounts, including: checking accounts, savings accounts, investment accounts, stocks and bonds, and U.S. Treasury notes. If any of these accounts currently have designated beneficiaries, bring that information as well.
Gather all retirement account information, including 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans, IRAs, life insurance policies, Social Security statements, and pension information. Make sure you have the account names, account numbers, current balances, outstanding loan balances, and currently named beneficiaries.
If any family members owe you debts, compile that information.
Be certain to let your estate planning attorney know of any financial advisors that you work with so that your attorney can work with them throughout the process as well.
Questions to Think About
The following are some of the first questions your estate planning attorney will ask. You are not required to have answers ready for all these questions, but because some of them are complex, it is a good idea to think through these issues before your appointment.
- Who will be beneficiaries of your property?
- Do you want to leave any specific items of property to certain individuals?
- Is there anyone you do not want to be a beneficiary of any of your property?
- Do you plan to make any distributions to any nonprofit organizations – university, church, charity, or other organization?
- Do you know who you will want to act as Personal Representative of your Last Will and Testament?
- Do you know who you will want to act as Trustee of any trusts you establish?
- If you have minor children, who would you want to nominate as Guardian?
- How would you want to manage your health and financial well-being if you become incapacitated?
- Do you have specific wishes for your funeral?
Doing some prep work will allow this initial consultation to be a productive and informative session, and will help your estate plan to successfully meet your objectives.