Often, one of the first questions clients ask when inquiring about estate planning is, what are the steps? And relatedly, how long will it take? These are great questions, which I intend to shed some light on:
Step 1. Client Education
The first step in any estate planning project is educating the client. This is typically done during the initial consultation, but some planners may conduct the initial education in a seminar. Expect that the estate planning attorney will ask you to bring a completed questionnaire to your initial consult. The questionnaires are usually designed to elicit responses to help guide the attorney in providing the most relevant education to the client. Expect that the attorney will cover at a minimum wills and trusts, documents needed in planning for disability/incapacitation, and probate.
Step 2. Counseling and Design
Sometimes the estate planning issues are such that the attorney can recommend a strategy and gather the information needed to design your plan within the first meeting. Often times with more complex situations, another meeting will be necessary solely for the counseling and design of your estate plan. I like to explain to clients that I charge for counseling, not word processing. I believe the value a good estate planning attorney brings is his ability to counsel on the issues, not just collect and enter data into software.
Step 3. Review and Execution
After your estate planning attorney has counseled on the issues and collected the necessary information she’ll be able to produce the documents that reflect your plan. Some attorneys will send you the documents ahead of time for you to review, others may have you review the documents in their offices before executing. Regardless, at the end of this meeting you will have a plan in place. However, especially if you are using a revocable living trust to direct where your property goes after you die, your documents are only as good as the steps you take to fund your estate plan.
Step 4. Funding
Funding an estate plan is the process of changing title or beneficiary designation of your assets to be directed in accordance with your plan. This may be as simple as changing the payable on death designation of your bank account, or it may involve changing title of your assets into your living trust. Some lawyers may provide general instructions on how to fund your plan. Others may actually offer funding services.
Step 5. Maintaining your Plan
It would be impossible for any estate plan to contemplate all possible contingencies in your life. You may win the lottery, suffer a disability in your family, or the laws may change affecting your tax liability. Plans are usually drafted for the immediate future with the most common contingencies addressed. To make sure your plan reflects your planning goals at the time the plan is called to action, it’s important to revisit your plan periodically. Some estate planning law firms have formal programs for this, others may reach out to you periodically as a means to remind you, however many may leave the updating to you.
These are the steps in creating and maintaining an estate plan. If you’re interested in learning more or getting started, please contact our office at (919) 825-1518 to schedule an initial consultation. We’d love to be your Raleigh Estate Planning Attorneys!