You’ve taken the important first step of scheduling a meeting with your estate planner, now what? To make that meeting as productive as possible, here’s a brief rundown of what will be discussed and some considerations to make in advance:
First, take some time to think about who will be making medical decisions on your behalf if you’re not able to. This information will be relevant for your Advance Medical Directive and Healthcare Power of Attorney. For many people, a spouse or partner is the logical first choice. But take this one step further and ask yourself: if my spouse is unavailable, who should communicate my wishes to the doctor? If there’s no partner to make a decision, is there a family member in the area who can help? Is there a close friend? Have a few candidates in mind, along with their address and telephone number, to discuss with your attorney.
Second, ask yourself who will make financial decisions for you in the event of your incapacitation. This person will be your agent under your Power of Attorney. This may or may not be the same person you want making your medical decisions. The most important consideration here is TRUST. Your agent will be able to buy and sell property on your behalf and pay your debts, so it’s crucial to appoint someone you trust completely and that will have your best interests at heart.
Executors, Trustees, Guardians
Third, for your will, you’ll want to think of a few potential executors. This is a demanding role, so you’ll want someone organized, reliable and who will pay attention to details. If you have minor children, the will is also where you will nominate a guardian and possibly a trustee. The trustee should be logical and good with finances and record keeping. Many clients consider professional assistance for this role. The guardian will be raising your children, so their values and parenting style should match your own as closely as possible. Remember that no one will ever fill that role perfectly. For more information on selecting a guardian, check out the article here.
Finally, consider your property and how you’d like it distributed. Should your children inherit everything equally? Should you consider a trust for minor children? Do you have any personal items you’d like certain family members to receive? What about gifts to charities? Feel free to start completing the Asset Inventory Worksheet (available here) as a useful way to get a picture of your estate, although this does not need to be completed before your first meeting. There are many ways to structure gifts, so start with a general idea of your property and wishes, and your lawyer can help with the specifics.
Now, if you found yourself answering, “Hmmm . . . I don’t know” to any of the questions above, DON’T WORRY. You don’t need to have everything figured out before you meet with your lawyer and in fact, much of the value provided by meeting with a lawyer is to help walk you through these questions and provide information on how to decide. In other words, don’t feel compelled to do all of your estate planning before you do your estate planning. Helping you through this process is the lawyer’s job, so being unsure of a few things and having some questions is completely normal.
Starting the conversation can be the hardest step. But once begun, most clients feel the process is much easier than they had thought. Consider these questions and you’re well on your way to protecting your family and providing for the efficient distribution of your belongings.
Disclaimer: This material is intended for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Responses to inquiries, whether by email, telephone, or other means, do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create or imply the existence of an attorney-client relationship.