These types of questions can be answered in a number of ways. On the financial side of things, your attorney needs to know what types of assets you own or expect to acquire and their approximate value. Our firm’s estate planning questionnaire might prove helpful in collecting this information, but there are other equally good formats available.
Of course not all of estate planning is about taxes and numbers. There are a host of important personal questions that only you can answer. We believe these questions are often addressed best in a face to face meeting. While it certainly is helpful to give thought to such questions as who should be appointed guardian of minor children or who should be named as trustee ahead of time, it can be very helpful to have a professional advisor involved in finalizing such estate planning decisions.
You are under no obligation to meet with us or retain us for your estate planning, but perhaps you would find it helpful to have an idea of what our typical process is.
The Initial Meeting — At the initial meeting with your Certus attorney you will discuss your personal objectives and the tax and property law considerations relevant to your situation. The initial meeting is a relatively intense personal planning meeting where you and your attorney work together towards developing your estate plan. Usually most questions are answered by the end of the meeting (which typically lasts 1-1/2 to 2 hours, but can go longer), but others will require further thought.
At the end of the initial meeting we probably will have covered enough ground to give you our general recommendations regarding the appropriate documents for your situation. If so, we make it our practice to discuss our fees up front. We do not base our fees on a percentage of your net worth, but rather on the amount of work involved and the results achieved. We try to be as specific as we can be, so that there are no surprises.
Preparation of Documents — After a course of action is agreed upon, it will be our responsibility to prepare the necessary documents. In order for us to give sufficient consideration to your particular circumstances, generally two to three weeks (sometimes more depending on the complexity involved) will be required before initial drafts are sent out. We will, of course, include explanatory materials to assist you in understanding the complex documents you receive.
Follow-up Meetings or Conversations — Once draft documents and explanatory materials are in your hands, you may (or may not) have questions. We will count on you to let us know whether we have adequately explained the impact and operation of your estate plan. We will ask you about this and trust that you will be open with us if we need to go over something (or everything) again or in a different way. Estate planning is complicated and we will do whatever it takes to make it understandable.
How we do that is up to you. As alluded to above, we usually operate on a fixed fee basis for estate planning. We do this so that you do not feel hesitant to sit down with us to go over the documents together in person or over the phone. You do not get charged more for these “extra” meetings or phone conversations. The key is that you feel comfortable with your plan before you sign anything.
Executing the Documents — After all open issues have been resolved and you are confident that your estate plan fits your situation we will arrange for a time to sign the various documents in our offices. It is important that the documents be executed with the proper formalities to insure their effectiveness.
Implementing the Documents — Signing the documents is important, but so is the follow-up. Beneficiary designations must be coordinated to fit the new (or revised) estate plan. It may be desirable to retitle assets into the name of the trust (sometimes referred to as “funding” the trust) for probate avoidance or management purposes. We will guide you through this process, although many clients take on the bulk of this work themselves.
Updating the Plan — We design our estate plans to grow with you as much as possible. However, as your family or financial situation changes it is important for you to make sure your plan fits those changes. We generally suggest that our clients contact us every year or two so that we might discuss how your estate plan fits with current circumstances or to determine whether tax law changes suggest a revision is needed. We do not charge for these follow-up conversations or meetings. If, however, we are called upon to alter, amend or expand upon the estate planning we will be upfront about what the charges would be for such work.
Hopefully this gives you a good idea about how the estate planning process works. Of course there are other details that are not covered, so please let us know if you have any questions.