Before you begin working with an attorney on this process, it’s useful to consider several questions that can help speed the development of your estate plan along. It’s important to understand that attorneys are there for the legal mechanics, but they won’t necessarily ask the questions that address important family dynamics you may need to consider. Before your first meeting with your estate planning attorney, consider talking with your financial planner who can act as an objective sounding board to discuss who gets what, when, how and why. Then, you can walk into your attorney’s office with a general vision of your estate plan, making the overall process to execute easier and quicker.
Here are three questions you could discuss with your planner:
- Who will be your executor?
If you are creating a will, you will need an executor to administer the estate. Obviously, the person needs to be trustworthy, but being an executor is a skilled job with time commitments. They need to have bandwidth to oversee the estate. Your heirs also need to view the executor as unbiased. If a family member or friend doesn’t fit the bill, consider hiring a professional fiduciary such as a trust company or a bank with trust powers. You might also want to give some consideration to naming an alternate executor – the person who will serve if your first choice isn’t able to do so for any reason.
- How will you divide your assets?
When you meet with your planner, he or she can help you objectively think through who should get what and why. Tax strategies, specific irrevocable trust vehicles, and other legal complexities should take a backseat until you get to the attorney’s office. There are scenarios to consider, such as dividing your assets equally among your children or leaving more to one than the other due to unique circumstances. Perhaps you are thinking about delaying your children’s inheritance until a certain age. Maybe you would like to leave something to your grandchildren or a specific charity. Your attorney may not ask you these questions. And a planner may offer a different and comprehensive perspective you need to make these decisions.
- Who will be your attorney-in-fact and health care representative?
Estate planning is more than dividing your assets at death. To have an integrated estate plan, you need to appoint someone to legally act on your behalf in medical matters if you become unable to do so yourself. This is known as designating a health care representative. You also may want to consider designating a person to make financial and other non-health-care decisions for you. This person is an “attorney-in-fact,” also known as a durable power of attorney designation. Many people may default to their spouse or oldest child when naming an attorney-in-fact. However, like an executor, necessary criteria extend beyond the person’s trustworthiness. He or she needs to have bandwidth for the role and should be trusted by your other loved ones. When choosing a health care representative, consider how far the person lives from you, as the role may involve getting to your local hospital or doctor’s office quickly. And as with your executor, you may wish to consider naming an alternate attorney-in-fact and an alternate health care representative.
There is a lot to consider. If you would like to first discuss these topics with your planner, it could help set you up for success when you create the actual estate plan with your attorney.