What Happens in the Estate Planning Process After the Initial Consultation.
Different lawyers conduct estate planning in different ways. Part One of this post topic explored the initial consultation. This post discusses what happens after that consultation. The basic phases of estate plan creation are: initial consultation; information gathering and planning; drafting; review; and signing.
Information Gathering and Planning.
As noted in Part One, some attorneys will combine the initial consultation and a preliminary planning stage, while others prefer separate client meetings. Information the attorney will need may includes such things as a list of your assets and debts; the names, birthdates and addresses of your loved ones; names and addresses of persons you select to act as executor, trustee, agents, etc.; possibly information regarding pre-deceased spouses or divorced spouses; and other information specific to your situation. The attorney will always want a copy of any existing estate planning documents you may have. During the planning stage, the attorney will discuss your intentions, explain your options, and make suggestions for achieving your goals.
Preparing the Estate Plan Documents.
Once planning and information gathering are complete, the attorney will draft documents for the client’s review. Many attorneys mail or email a draft of the documents to the client for review in advance of the next meeting, but some do not. Many will confer by phone or email to resolve quick corrections before the next meeting. Review of the final version may happen at its own meeting or in conjunction with the signing stage. It really depends upon the attorney and the needs of the client. For some clients, the process only requires a few in-person meetings, but other clients may require several meetings and phone calls before they are comfortable with the documents and feel that they understand all they need to know. Most clients falls somewhere in between. (For this reason, many attorneys prefer to use a flat fee arrangement for the initial plan so that clients feel free to ask as many questions as they have, rather than feeling that they are “on the clock.”)
Final Review and Signing Your Estate Plan.
The final review and signing meeting may be a bit more formal, depending upon the attorney. This is done in person and, if you are married and your spouse is also making a plan, you must come together. There will also be a notary public present, and at least two witnesses (or the notary and one additional witness). You will spend some time having general conversation with the witnesses so that they can attest that you appear to be of sound mind. The attorney may question you about the documents so that you can demonstrate to the witnesses that you understand what they are. You will also be asked to confirm to the witnesses that you would like them to witness your Will and the other plan documents. It is not necessary to read the documents out loud.
Funding and Other Steps After the Estate Plan is Signed.
Once the documents are all signed, the attorney will give you a copy of your documents and many attorneys will also give you the originals. Most attorneys provide you with a binder or folder in which to keep the documents organized. Some documents, such as transfer deeds, may require additional processing. If this is your first estate plan or your first trust, you may also need to “fund” the trust by re-titling various assets to yourselves as trustees. Some attorneys collect information from you and do all of the funding themselves, but most will handle real estate transfers and then give you instructions for changing your financial accounts, which is usually less expensive to do yourself (and the broker or bank can assist).
Ongoing Maintenance and Estate Plan Review
Once these steps are completed, you will probably not need continued attorney assistance for day to day matters. You should, however, have your plan reviewed on a periodic basis to ensure that it continues to reflect your intentions. Intentions and circumstances both change over time. Reviews are especially important when significant changes occur, such as births, deaths, divorce, children becoming adults or developing special needs, changes in the law, or changes in your desires and intentions.