How to Prepare for an Estate Planning Meeting
If you are getting ready to attend your first estate planning meeting with an attorney, congratulations! That means that you’ve already taken the most difficult step: making the decision to make an estate plan. Now you may be concerned about what you should do to get the most out of the consultation. You may even be tempted to postpone the meeting because you don’t feel prepared enough or know what kind of estate plan you need.
The good news is that you are more prepared than you think, and the best thing that you can do to prepare for estate planning is to think about your broad goals. Do you have a young family that you want to provide for if something happens to you? Are you in a second marriage, and want to be sure that both your spouse and your children from your prior marriage are treated fairly in your estate plan? Do you need to provide for a family member who has special needs? Have you accumulated wealth and want to use your estate plan to support causes you care about? Are you concerned about potential conflict, and want to prevent your heirs from fighting over your estate?
In short, the most important way to prepare for estate planning is to think about the people who are important to you and what you want to achieve for them. If we sat down right now and had a conversation, you could probably do that easily. And in reality, that’s what the first estate planning meeting should feel like: a conversation between you and your estate planning attorney. You talk about your goals; she talks about options to help you achieve them.
What to Bring to an Estate Planning Appointment
Of course, there is more to estate planning than identifying your goals; it’s also important to have a picture of your resources. That said, you don’t need to have all your financial information organized and collated to be able to meet with an estate planning attorney.
You should know roughly how much you own and how it is held (such as in your sole name or jointly with another person). Think about things like bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement plans, life insurance policies, and real estate. If you have recent statements or deeds, those might be helpful, but it’s not critical to have a sheaf of paperwork to be ready for your first meeting. If you have an existing estate plan that you need to update, though, your estate planning attorney will appreciate being able to review a copy.
Before your meeting, ask your attorney if there is anything specific you need to bring with you. Some attorneys will give you a questionnaire to fill out or a checklist of items to have at your meeting. Do the best you can to gather information, but don’t stress if you don’t have it, and certainly don’t cancel the meeting. Moving the process along is much more important than having all the answers. In fact, feeling like they need to have all the answers before they start is what keeps many people from starting the estate planning process in the first place.
What Will Be Expected of Me During an Estate Planning Meeting?
One thing we often hear from clients is that they put off making an estate planning meeting because they were afraid of getting a “hard sell” and being pressured into signing up for something that didn’t meet their needs. While estate planning is important, and you should definitely make an estate plan sooner than later, it is usually not urgent; barring extraordinary circumstances, you have time to think about it. You should never feel pressured into retaining an attorney, and feeling like it’s “now or never” is usually a big red flag.
In fact, it is precisely because estate planning is so important that you should be thoughtful and deliberate. You and your family are unique, and you should take the time, in partnership with your attorney, to create a plan that is right for your needs. You should expect your estate planning attorney to ask questions you might not have considered, like who you would want to make medical decisions for you if you couldn’t make them for yourself. Those questions are meant to start you thinking, not to demand an immediate answer, however.
In general, you should expect to feel more informed, and less stressed, after your meeting with an estate planning attorney. You will have gotten your pressing questions answered, and even if you have new ones, you should feel confident that your estate planning attorney will help you find the answers as you work together. But your attorney can’t know what’s right for you until she knows you, and that is what your initial consultation will be about.
To learn more, watch our video about how to prepare for an estate planning meeting, and contact our law office to schedule a no-obligation consultation.