Meeting with an attorney to discuss your wishes and objectives as it pertains to your estate plans may seem overwhelming. Make no mistake about it, the decisions you will be making in creating a will, trust, or other estate planning document are critically important. However, if you review this checklist below beforehand, you will likely find the meeting and process will go much smoother once you’re actually in the office with your attorney.
- Bring All Financial Information: When you meet with your attorney, you’ll need to be able to provide him or her with a full picture of your financial status for planning and tax purposes. You’ll want to bring documentation reflecting any bank accounts, stocks, investments accounts, or bonds in your name or held jointly. You’ll also want to bring documentation showing your liabilities (such as loans, mortgages, credit card statements, etc.). Clients often find it helpful to prepare their own financial worksheet, with one column showing assets and the other debts. Be sure to include account names, numbers and your most current statements. Also specify any life insurance policies or retirement savings information like 401(k)s and IRAs.
- Give Your Attorney a Full Family Picture: Think of this as creating a family tree! Be ready to provide your attorney with a detailed breakdown of the makeup of your family. Specifically, these individuals must be considered when creating an estate plan: a spouse, ex-spouse, children, grandchildren and step-children. Be sure to have the ages and names for your family members, and also their address. A key to estate planning is specificity, so the more detailed and less ambiguous you are in drafting the document the better. You should also develop some initial scheme of distribution as it pertains to your family member, even if that scheme is potentially leaving them nothing.
- List Your Business Interests: Do you own your own business? Are you part of a partnership, or a member of an LLC? This information is of critical importance in not only planning how to protect and distribute your assets, but also determining the sustainability of your business after your death.
- List All Real and Personal Property: We started off by discussing the importance of detailing your financial information. As important, if not more so, is putting together a list of all your real property (land, homes, buildings, etc.) and personal property (everything that’s not land, homes, buildings). Put pen to paper and break your property listing into two groups. The first is for real property: list your primary residence, any vacation or second homes, and any business or rental properties. If you have a timeshare, bring all documentation you have pertaining to that interest as well. Next, list your personal property. You should not feel obligated to list every single knick-knack or trinket, but instead focus on pieces that have either monetary or sentimental value. Examples include family heirlooms, works of art or other collectibles, vehicles, jewelry and even furniture.
- Recognize the Vast Power of a Properly Drafted Estate Plan: When we think of estate planning, our attention immediately goes to how we want our money and property to be distributed. But please realize that an artfully drafted estate plan can do far more than just dictate “who gets what”, so to speak. By working hand-in-hand with your attorney, you can do all of the following: (1) make well-informed decisions about appointing a reliable executor, power of attorney, and/or guardian for your minor children; (2) understand and manage the tax implications of your distribution plan; (3) designate whether you want to donate your body to science or donate organs; (4) dictate your funeral arrangements and decide whether you want to be buried or cremated; and (5) allocate a portion of your estate to a charity or church or other not-for-profit entity. These are just a few of the many possible functions of an estate plan to reach below the surface of money and property and give you more control to ensure your wishes are followed!
If you don’t have a will, or you have a will which you drafted which has not been reviewed by a licensed attorney, now is a good time to consider creating or reviewing your document with an attorney. Howland Hess O’Connell has a team of attorneys practicing in the field of Estate Planning available to help you today, including: Richard Torpey, George O’Connell, Michael Cassidy, Thomas Guinan,Bruce Hess, John Howland, Karen Angelucci, Dennis Meakim, Karen Mavros and Joseph Winning.
Legal Disclaimer: The contents of this website are intended solely for informational purposes. They neither constitute nor imply an official legal opinion on behalf of Howland, Hess, Guinan, Torpey, Cassidy and O’Connell nor do they establish an attorney-client relationship of any kind. Howland Hess O’Connell encourages all readers to seek and consult professional counsel before acting upon the information contained on this site.