Typically, an attorney will speak to clients to get an understanding of their estate planning needs, and then request that the client complete a questionnaire prior to their first meeting. The questionnaire becomes a guide for the attorney to tailor the first meeting to that client’s specific needs and issues. The questionnaire also becomes a tool for the client so that they can begin to think about some of the decisions that they will make throughout the estate planning process prior to their first meeting.
If you are looking to begin or review your estate planning, it is very important to meet with an attorney to ensure you are making the right decisions for you.
When to Begin Planning an Estate
Estate planning is usually more efficient the earlier and more often it occurs. There is no perfect time to begin estate planning, but there is no wrong time to begin estate planning either. As long as you are an individual of sound mind and 18 years old or older, there is likely some estate planning that could be beneficial. A lot of individuals contact an estate planning attorney when they are preparing to get married, recently married, and/or recently divorced. People are also more likely to begin estate planning at the birth of their first child, when they purchase a house, or when they move to DC from another jurisdiction.
Meeting with an Attorney
The first meeting with an attorney is a substantive meeting. Usually, the attorney will review the current estate tax laws and explain the applicable private laws. Together, the client and the attorney come up with the structure of an estate plan. After the meeting, the next step is to draft the necessary documents to execute the plan, which usually includes a last will and testament. There may be a need to draft documents for the incorporation of trusts and/or plan for incapacity, which would include a medical power of attorney or an advance medical directive and a durable power of attorney for financial and legal purposes.
Following the document drafting process, there may be a few rounds of revisions. The client executes all of their estate planning documents. As a follow-up, an attorney sometimes, at the request of the client, reviews the estate plan and the beneficiary designations to make sure that the clients’ accounts and beneficiary designations are coordinated with their overall estate plan. If trusts have been created, attorneys can also assist clients with funding trusts to make sure that their plan is enacted.
Although the catalysts mentioned above are all good times to create or review an estate plan, they are not the only triggers for individuals to create an estate plan. When there has been an emergency, there may be some estate planning that an attorney can no longer do because of capacity requirements and it is more difficult for the client to make those tough decisions in a high-stress time. It is often easier for clients to create an estate plan prior to an emergency situation when decisions can be made in a calm and well-thought out way.