Things to Review Before Meeting with Your Estate Planning Attorney

 In order to make the most efficient use of your first meeting with an estate planning attorney, it is helpful to spend a little time preparing.  There are some issues that you will need to think about.  Your attorney can guide you and suggest options or alternatives, but many of the questions are ones that you alone will best be able to answer.  Below, in no particular order, are some very basic issues for you to think about regarding your own planning.

  • If you cannot make financial decisions for yourself, who would you want making those decisions for you?  If that person cannot act, who would you want as an alternate?
  • If you cannot make health care decisions for yourself, who would you want making those decisions for you?  If that person cannot act, who would you want as an alternate?
  • Are there certain health care decisions that you do, or do not, want made for you?  Common issues include organ donation, whether or not to be kept on life support when in a coma with no reasonable possibility of regaining consciousness, and whether or not one wants any restrictions on relief from pain.
  • On your passing, to whom should your assets be distributed?
  • What if a beneficiary is not living; where should his or her share go?
  • Should your beneficiaries receive their share outright, or should some of them receive their share in trust for their benefit because they are minors or just not able to properly manage money yet?
  • If a beneficiary’s share is to be held in further trust , there are a number of questions that can arise:
    • Who will manage and administer that beneficiary’s share?  That is, who will be the Trustee for that beneficiary?
    • At what age will the beneficiary’s share be distributed to him or her?  Will it all be at one time (maybe when the beneficiary reaches age 35), or will it be spread out over time (maybe 1/2 at age 30 and the balance at age 35)?
    • In the meantime, what kinds of distributions should the Trustee be making to the beneficiary?  All of the income?  Income and principal in the Trustee’s discretion for the beneficiary’s health, education, support and maintenance?  There are many variations, and it will all depend upon your particular situation.
    • Does a beneficiary have any special needs or challenges?  Is the beneficiary receiving, or likely to receive, public benefits or support?  This is very important for your attorney to know, especially if your intent is to preserve those benefits.
  • Are there particular assets that you want going to a particular beneficiary?  For example, a business being left to a child that works there or a home to a child that lives there?  If your goal is to treat beneficiaries equally, yet give them different assets, your attorney can suggest ways to accomplish this.
  • If you have minor children, who should be their guardian?  What if that person cannot act?
  • Do you have any special funeral or burial instructions?

There are also special situations that should be considered when drafting an estate plan.  It is important to discuss the following with your estate planning attorney:

  • If you or your spouse is not a US citizen.
  • If you are in a Registered Domestic Partnership.
  • If you are paying child support or alimony.
  • If you will be inheriting substantial assets.
  • If you have a beneficial interest in a trust created by someone else.
  • If you have a power of appointment over someone else’s trust.  (A power of appointment is the ability to direct the disposition of the trust’s assets.)
  • If you are a party to a buy-sell agreement or other similar arrangement.
  • If you have made substantial gifts in the past, and if so, whether or not a gift tax return was filed.