You are never too old to do a little homework. Taking the time to gather estate planning information before meeting with an attorney can save a lot of time throughout the planning process. Of course, saving time equals saving money!
Many attorneys utilize checklists to assist their clients in gathering information. These checklists make the process easier for you. While the form can be completed at the meeting, you and your attorney may find it more effective to complete the checklist or questionnaire in advance of the meeting and provide a copy to the attorney. By doing so, you can gather necessary information regarding assets, liabilities and contact information. Additionally, the checklist causes you to begin thinking about the estate plan before the meeting. Many of the items contained in a Will can be emotionally difficult. By having more time to focus on end of life issues, you will be better able to make decisions at the meeting with your attorney. Common provisions found in the various forms are:
- Personal information (name, contact information, birthday and social security number for client and family members and list any disabilities or other special needs they may have).
- Asset information (types of accounts, account balances and how accounts are titled).
- Debt information, including mortgages, installment loans, leases, and business debts.
- Retirement account information and names of beneficiaries.
- Life insurance information and names of beneficiaries.
- Important documents (prenuptial agreement, divorce agreements, deeds, tax returns, etc.).
- The name, trustees, and assets of any trust held for benefit of client or family members or created by client.
- Beneficiary information (names, percentages, outright vs. in trust).
- Identify family and friends that client wishes to name as beneficiary.
- Identify property to be distributed to such beneficiaries.
- Names and contact information of the fiduciaries (executor, trustee, guardian).
In general, using the checklist ensures that you, as the client, think through how to protect your family and assets, communicates your wishes to the attorney and engage in tax planning by allowing the attorney to develop tax saving strategies based on the information provided. The checklist also speeds up the estate planning process by making it more efficient. A more efficient process results in reduced time spent on the matter, translating into reduced fees. Be sure to review your assets and liabilities, so that your attorney will be able to formulate and analyze a thorough estate plan. The more complete the information, the better equipped the attorney to come up with the best possible planning alternatives for you.
Taking the time to complete your “homework” can lead to developing an A+ estate plan!