Preface: For most people, the first meeting with an attorney can be an intimidating prospect. Typically, people contact an attorney when faced with a conflict or a painful experience.
For example, many times clients are prompted by a medical emergency or terminal diagnosis to come to us to create an estate plan. Naturally, in this circumstance, their level of anxiety is heightened. In other situations, estate planning is one of those long-term lingering items on their to-do list that they are excited to finally cross off!
If estate planning is on your to-do list for 2022, here are some valuable tips to help you prepare for your first meeting with a sense of security and understanding of the process.
How do I prepare for my first estate planning meeting?
We recommend that you do all of the following, and you can start with whichever task you feel like doing first.
1. Review your estate’s assets and debts:
It is important to be clear in your mind about what assets you own and what debts you have. In order for your estate planner to adequately answer questions you may have and identify your needs and the appropriate strategy for your estate plan, they will need to understand the makeup of your assets. This means having an accurate understanding of the makeup of your assets:
- Do you own real property or rent?
- Do you have a wide range of financial assets including investments, or do you maintain a more simplified asset portfolio?
- What debts are you obligated to pay?
- Are your debts secured by real property, or are they loans you owe to a family member or friend, or perhaps they’re medical in nature?
- Do you have any interest in any businesses?
- Does anyone owe you any funds?
2. Review what you know about your future likelihood of inheriting from another loved one:
Do you have any reason to believe you may be receiving an inheritance soon? In order to make sure your estate plan is effective and flexible to possible future changes, it is important for you to share with your attorney any inheritance you believe you might receive.
3. Think about who you want to inherit or disinherit in the family:
Part of an estate planning attorney’s role is making sure that the plan they create meets your needs and goals. For most individuals, there is a concern about the right people receiving gifts upon our passing. Things to contemplate and prepare to discuss are:
Family relationships: things to consider and prepare to discuss include:
- Are there potential people who you want to disinherit?
- Do you have a child or sibling who you want to inherit from you, but you worry about their ability to manage their inheritance?
- Do you plan on leaving money or assets to someone with special needs that prevent them from obtaining self-sustaining employment, and they have government benefits that need to be preserved?
4. Prioritize your overall goals:
Once you’ve been able to take time thinking about the different components that will impact the overall creation of your estate plan, it is a great idea to take some time to really think about what your ultimate goals are. Individuals can have a myriad of goals for estate planning that include, but are not limited to:
- Ensuring the person you feel best with is in charge should something happen that prevents you from caring for yourself
- Ensuring your home is maintained in the event you lose the capacity to care for yourself
- Ensuring the people with authority to care for you or administer your estate are people you chose and not selected by the court
- Ensuring non-family members or friends inherit over family members
- Ensuring an unequal distribution of assets between beneficiaries
- Guaranteeing a favorite charity inherits
- Placing limitations or protections on distributions to beneficiaries
- Placing qualifying criteria on inheritances such as academic achievements
- Placing safeguards on inheritances to beneficiaries with special needs
- Minimizing taxes
- Minimizing the likelihood of court involvement
Your goals are going to be your own. You do not need to compare your goals or wishes against those of anyone else. There is no “should” when it comes to estate planning goals: the only desires that matter are yours. You have worked hard for what you have, and you rightfully deserve the ability to dictate what happens once you pass.
What should I expect at my first estate planning meeting?
Since every estate planning law practice is different, you can expect a wide variety of consultation styles. Depending upon the internal policies and procedures of the attorney you meet with, the initial meeting may last anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour.
When you contact an office to schedule your first meeting, we highly encourage you to ask the staff member you speak with about the attorney’s style and approach to consultations.
10-25 minute consultations:
When attorneys have initial meetings that are 10-25 minutes, they are using that time to be very tailored and identify the answer to a very specific question:
“Do you as a potential client meet that firm’s criteria for clients?”
Often firms with this practice have a very narrow focus. By having a shorter consultation time, they are respecting your time as well as theirs to make sure that you aren’t pursuing legal representation that will be unable to meet your needs. If the firm determines that they can assist you, they will move forward with the engagement process and then set up a second meeting which will go into the details of your needs and your goals for estate planning.
30-60 minute consultations:
A longer consultation time still allows the attorney to determine if you are a good fit to work together, and if they will be able to assist you in achieving your goals. If it appears that they cannot help you, they will state so and end the consultation early to respect your time. If they determine that they are able to help you, then they will set up a second appointment for additional time for further and deeper conversations about your specific needs and goals. Depending upon your readiness to move into a deeper conversation about the items discussed above, the attorney may be able to have sufficient information to create the first draft following this conversation.
At the Gomez Edwards Law Group we set our initial estate planning consultations for an hour—however, most of the people we speak with are only looking for an introductory conversation. They want to know who we are and what our process is so that we can get a mutual feel for each other before they make their decision on whom they would like to work with.
We recognize that a good attorney-client fit is going to look different for every individual. And, we prefer taking a congenial approach to our consultations because we understand the mutually beneficial elements of making a real connection with our clients. If you feel comfortable with us, we welcome the opportunity to work with you. If you feel that our approach doesn’t fit with your personal style, we are excited for you to work with an attorney who does match your style.
Whichever approach the attorney takes during your first meeting, remember: this is your time too! If you have concerns about their process or approach, ask about it.
Consultations are invaluable because it is your time to get a sense and feel for who the attorney is and what their practice is like.
At Gomez Edwards, we believe that the biggest contributing factor in your legal success is the relationship you have with your attorney. This is because the art of creating a successful and comprehensive estate plan includes having very difficult conversations about medical emergencies, incapacity, and death. Estate planners recognize that for the majority of individuals, these are not easy conversations to have. If these topics are going to cause you anxiety or stress, it is important that the person sitting across from you, sharing a zoom screen, or on the other end of the phone is someone you feel comfortable being honest with about your concerns or fears in any of these possible situations.
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