My wife and I will be seeing an attorney tomorrow to update our estate plan. In theory we could prepare the plan ourselves, but there is an old adage that, “an attorney who represents him/herself has a fool for a client.” Knowing this, we value the outside perspective of a different estate planner taking a fresh look at our situation.
I thought this would be a good time to cover my next blog topic: How to prepare for your first meeting with your estate planning attorney. Some basic tips follow:
First, obtain detailed written information about everyone you expect to name in your estate plan. Make a list of everyone who you might want to raise your kids, receive money or property, serve as your executor or trustee, etc. You should know how to correctly spell each of their full names, and have their addresses and phone numbers. This may sound basic, but just yesterday, I realized I did not know the middle initial of the person we plan to name as the alternate executor of our estate, and could not remember if he was a “Jr.” or “III.” Imagine sitting in an attorney’s office, spending time on your cell phone scrambling to reach friends to get this kind of information…it happens all the time. Also don’t forget to bring information about your primary care physician for advanced medical directives.
Second, do a thorough scrub of your records to find every single asset you own, and anything you might come to own through inheritance or other means. Bring paper copies of these records to your attorney’s office, so you can properly reference these assets in your estate plan. Recently, a relative of mine discovered her family had purchased oil rights to some rural property in the early 20th Century. This property was almost lost to the sands of time, as it was not referenced in an estate plan. By properly referencing your property, you can ensure it actually passes to your loved ones.
Finally, even though “the clock” may be running (if your attorney bills by the hour), I would not recommend rushing through your meeting. Of course, spend the time productively, not on administrative matters (see above). However, I would not rush through the “get to know you” phase of the meeting. As an attorney, I have been amazed by how different each family is, and how unique the dynamics of every relationship can be. A big part of good lawyering is building a relationship with your client. By letting your attorney know a little bit about yourself, your background, how you met your significant other, and even your hobbies, values, etc, you establish a relationship where your attorney knows the right questions to ask. Just as importantly, you become more comfortable sharing important details with your attorney. Hopefully this gives you, the client, a sense of understanding and ownership of the end product, your estate plan.