What Happens in My Initial Estate Planning Consultation?
Your initial consultation with an estate planning attorney should be similar to your initial consultation with your physician.
First, you will be asked to provide information about yourself and your family. Are you married? Do you have any children? Did you have previous marriages? Do you have any grandchildren? What are the ages of you and your family?
You will be asked about your assets and their nature and extent. You will be asked about your goals. Who will take care of all kinds of matters when you are unable to do so?
As many patients try to conceal certain information from physicians, some clients try to conceal certain information from attorneys. It is important for the attorney to know the full answer to all questions asked, just as it is important for the physician to know. The estate planning attorney asks the questions to help anticipate issues that might arise. For example, you may be reluctant to discuss a child you had fathered out of wedlock years ago. If you do not want that child to benefit from your estate, you should disinherit that child. A child simply omitted may be entitled to what they would have gotten had you died without a Will or Trust.
An estate planning attorney’s role is to help you realize your goals and dreams while guarding against life’s risks. For example, let’s say you want to leave assets to your child with special needs. The estate planning attorney can draft the trust so that those assets will be available for your child’s benefit, rather than being taken to pay or reimburse governmental agencies for benefits for which he or she is eligible.
The estate planning attorney will go over your goals with you and plot a course to achieve that goal. After you agree on the strategies involved, the estate planning attorney will draft the documents and directions to effectuate those strategies. For example, the attorney may draft a power of attorney to designate who will be your agent to make financial or health care decisions when you are unable to make them for yourself. The attorney may draft a deed placing title to your home into your revocable living trust so that it will not be subject to probate on the death of the survivor of you and your spouse.
The estate planning attorney and the physician are educated professionals who are there to help you achieve your goals, whatever those might be. When you leave the attorney’s office, you should have an understanding of what the general plan is to achieve your goal and what steps will be taken next and by whom.
How do you choose an estate planning attorney? A recent segment on a CNN financial news cable network indicated that one of the most important factors to consider is your comfort level with the attorney and whether the attorney meets stringent continuing education requirements. Organizations such as the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys (www.aaepa.com) impose stringent continuing education requirements, so you might want to start your search for an attorney at their website.
Once you have chosen an estate planning attorney and have had the initial consultation, you will know you made the right choice by the sigh of relief and satisfaction as you leave the attorney’s office.