Coming prepared for your first estate planning consultation will help ensure a smooth and speedy process. Here are the next steps you can take to make the rest of the estate planning process as painless as possible:
Fill out a consultation form
Most attorneys have a preliminary consultation or intake form that helps set the stage for the first meeting. They are usually accessible on the firm’s website. The form provides the attorney with basic information about you and your estate. It also gives you the chance to organize your thoughts about your estate and your future wishes.
Gather your documents
While you can get the process started without all of your documents, providing them sooner rather than later will move things along much faster. Here are some of the documents you may want to bring:
- Financial information for non-retirement assets – bank accounts, investment accounts (annuities, mutual funds), stocks, bonds, and U.S. treasury notes
- Retirement savings information – 401(k)s, 403(b)s, 457s, IRAs, Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), and inherited retirement savings
- Real estate information – property address, ownership interest (sole, joint, tenants-in-common), market value, and outstanding mortgage balance for your primary residence, rental properties, vacation homes, and personally held business or investment property
- Life Insurance policy information – the type of policy (term, whole, group, etc.), the ownership, the company providing the insurance and beneficiary information
- List of tangible property – collectibles, automobiles, jewelry, art, and other things that either have value intrinsically or to you or your family
- Other documents – divorce agreements, premarital agreements, and other relevant contracts
Choose your executors and health care agents
Your attorney will ask you who you would like to manage your finances and make health care decisions should you become incapacitated or pass away. Your estate plan should include Advance Directives, legal documents in which you specify what actions your named person should take for your finances and health if you can no longer make decisions for yourself because of illness or incapacity. These include Durable Power of Attorney, Florida Living Will, or Health Care Surrogate documents.
Whoever you choose should be responsible, honest, and someone you trust to follow your wishes. While you may choose your oldest child or sibling, there’s no need to feel obligated to do so as many people do. It is entirely up to you to choose the right person for your life and estate.
It can also be helpful to choose two alternates as well. If you have trouble finding someone appropriate, be prepared to discuss this with your attorney. They will have options to suggest, should you need them.
Think about how you want to distribute your assets
Every family is different, and there is no mathematical equation that guides your relationships, nor is there one to decide how to divvy up your assets. Questions to ask yourself when determining how to create a custom estate plan for asset distribution include:
- Would equal distributions be fair for your family?
- Are your children equally responsible? Would they handle your assets appropriately?
- Should you bequeath your assets to nieces and nephews, in addition to your children?
- How will your family manage emotionally charged assets (i.e., family house? jewelry? family business? photos? precious collections?)
It’s also important to consider the legacy you may want to leave. For example, is there a particular issue or charity important to you? Your attorney can help you leave some of your assets to both organizations and individuals.
Come with questions
Your attorney is working for you. Keep that in mind. They are experts in their field, but that doesn’t mean you have to take everything they say at face value. Ask as many questions as you need to feel completely comfortable about your decisions. A good estate planning attorney will answer them happily. Things you may want to ask:
- The structure, purpose, and operation of estate planning documents
- The legal and tax ramifications of your estate planning wishes
- Your attorney’s work process
- Your attorney’s experience and background
- How the estate planning fees are calculated and invoiced
In addition, make sure that your attorney will sit and review drafts with you. This is crucial to ensure that your attorney drafted the documents per your wishes and that you can ask them to explain any provision of any document they ask you to sign.
Getting started on the right footing will help make sure all of your wishes are addressed and that process is as straightforward as possible. Mortellaro Law, located in Tampa, Florida, has the experience you need. Call our team of estate planning lawyers at 813-291-0734 to learn more about our experienced lawyers and find out if we’re the right fit for your estate planning needs.