Questions to Ask an Attorney Before Establishing an Estate Plan
The term "estate planning" is intimidating, which is why some people avoid it as long as possible. There's also a misconception that having an estate plan is only for the rich. The reality is that everyone should have a plan in place in the event of their death.
Unfortunately, some people think a will is enough. A will is an instrument that will take care of straightforward issues. One such issue is naming the beneficiary of a financial account. Having an attorney that is well-versed in more complicated situations is beneficial. For instance, you might be someone with multiple heirs, desire asset protection through a trust, or you just want peace of mind. Whatever the need, it's important that you know which questions to ask an attorney before your estate plan is established.
Addressing Estate Planning Concerns
Before you can ask well-devised questions, it's good to get your concerns in order. Some of these concerns might include:
Managing your estate's assets while you're still alive
Making plans for assets in multiple states
Matters involving common property
Dealing with small business assets
Naming a legal guardian for your children if you would die while they are minors
Ensuring that your heirs receive what you set aside for them
Minimizing estate taxes
Preventing conflicts between family members
By identifying what concerns you the most, the right questions will be asked.
Questions for an Estate Planning Attorney
Some key points to keep in mind before having the estate planning conversation with an attorney is that the plan needs to be solid and you should feel comfortable discussing this part of your future.
The following are questions to ask the attorney.
What areas of estate planning do you primarily focus?
Not all estate planning attorneys are created equal. Some focus heavily on creating wills. Others are focused on trusts while the rest are committed to meeting all of your needs. The point of this question is to make sure the attorney is knowledgeable of the most current legal statutes.
How long have you been practicing estate law?
There are certain qualities that come with experience. For instance, an experienced estate planner is going to have special knowledge of some of the challenges that can occur in the courts. They're also knowledgeable about tax issues and already have established strategies in place that help navigate these matters.
Do you simply draw up the documents or do you execute them as well?
There are some attorneys that do nothing more but create the estate planning documents, while others execute trusts. When dealing with trusts for asset protection and the avoidance of probate, it's good to have one that works at both sides of this planning instrument.
Do I need to do periodic reviews or will you do them for me?
While it's important for you to adjust your estate plan when your circumstances change, you can request annual or semi-annual reviews. These reviews ensure that life changes are reflected in the estate plan.
Can I have an estate plan that involves multiple planning documents?
Estate plans aren't always simple because multiple documents are needed. When dealing with assets, life insurance, common property, small business assets, and anything else that might be relevant, it's imperative to make sure everything is included in the plan. Once your attorney has reviewed your estate, you should be advised of the different tools available to you so you can opt for the right ones.
Can you tell me how to manage my estate taxes?
Estate taxes are a tricky topic because of how the laws can change. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 increased the generation-skipping tax exemptions and estate tax until 2025.
What types of trusts do you work with?
There are revocable and irrevocable trusts. A revocable living trust is a useful tool for avoiding probate. However, it's not the perfect fit for everyone. Income, estate, and inheritance taxes aren't avoided.
What other planning tools do you offer?
In addition to creating a solid estate plan, there are other planning instruments you can use. In the event you are unable to make decisions for yourself, healthcare directives, powers of attorney, and living wills are useful.
Will I be able to review my estate planning documents before they're finalized?
It's important that you are able to review your estate planning documents. This is also an opportunity to determine what is irrevocable and what can be changed later.
As Yourself Questions
When meeting the estate planning attorney, ask yourself if you're comfortable speaking about personal matters, if the attorney communicates well, and if your values are respected. It's best if there's good rapport and a solid understanding of your situation. Between this self-assessment and the above questions, you should feel secure in the estate planning decisions that you make.