When you decide it’s time to create an estate plan, you may be confused about how to proceed. Some of the terms you’ve heard bandied about, like “probate,” “revocable trust,” and “intestate,” may need some clarification, and you may be unsure about precisely which issues need to be addressed under your particular circumstances. The best way to cope with this all too familiar situation is to consult with skilled and knowledgeable estate planning attorney who is up-to-date with current state and federal law and will give you the personal attention you deserve.
Whenever you’re consulting a professional, it is wise to prepare a list of questions and bring a notepad so that you can come out of that first meeting feeling not only enlightened but reassured. If you come out feeling uneasy or overwhelmed, it is time to switch to another estate planning attorney with better communication skills.
Questions Concerning Your Assets and How Best to Protect Them
There are a number of questions about your assets that need to be asked and a first-rate attorney is likely to zero in on them. These questions tend to be more complicated for those with more substantial estates and for those who own property outside of their state of residence or even outside of the country. If you are in either of these situations, it is important to look for an estate planning attorney who has experience with high net-worth estates and is well prepared to answer the following questions:
- Are your assets likely to increase or decrease in the predictable future?
- How can you best avoid excessive taxation?
- Is there a way to protect your assets from creditors after your death?
- Are trusts a good idea for you? If so, which kinds of trusts?
A qualified estate planning will be able not only to help you address these questions but to provide you with options that will enable you to customize your estate plan to meet your exact needs.
Questions Concerning Your Asset Distribution After You Die
Of course, it is important to you to have your assets distributed as you wish after you die. Your estate planning attorney will help you prepare a will and answer the following questions:
- What is probate and should you try to avoid it?
- How do trusts work and what types of trusts might be beneficial to you?
- How can you make sure to include all of the beneficiaries you want to inherit from you?
- How can you exclude someone who would normally be in line to inherit from you?
- How can you make sure your chosen charities receive the monies you want to give them?
- Is there a way to keep a special needs relative eligible for government benefits while still leaving them an inheritance?
Questions Concerning Care of Minor Children If You Predecease Them
If you have young children, as a responsible parent you have to make the painful decision about who will be their guardian if neither parent is present to care for them. Questions your estate planning attorney will guide you through include:
On what basis should you select an appropriate guardian?
Who will you choose to replace that guardian if the designated party is unavailable?
What assets will you leave for the guardian to use for your child’s care or education?
Other Questions That Must Be Answered
In addition to these important questions, your estate planning attorney will assist you with the following:
- Questions concerning possible incapacity — HIPAA document, Health Care Proxy, End-of-Life Care, Living Will, organ and/or tissue donation
- Questions pertaining to pet care if you predecease your beloved animal
- Questions concerning how to keep your estate plan current with events like marriage, divorce, remarriage, births, deaths, unexpected debt or unanticipated asset gain, prolonged illness or disability, or cognitive impairment
Questions About Uncomfortable Discussions with Your Loved Ones
As noted, your estate planning attorney will be helpful in providing you with answers to significant questions about how to proceed in planning for your future and the future of your family. In addition, she or he may be of assistance when you have to communicate your decisions to your family members who, most likely, do not want to discuss your potential incapacity or death. It is crucial that they have their questions answered, even if they are reluctant to ask them. Such questions may involve:
- Passwords to online accounts
- Locations of keys to safe deposit boxes
- Locations of critical documents
- Your wishes about end-of-life care or organ donation
Remember, if you don’t make your wishes known to your family, there may be unnecessary conflict or resentment after your death. It is also essential that you make sure you discuss your decisions for trustees and potential guardians for your children with the individuals you have chosen, so they are not blindsided at the time of your death.
Posted in: Estate Planning