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Estate Planning:

Estate Planning Process

The process of preparing a client’s first estate plan usually involves five steps:

Beginning of Engagement.  We begin by providing a booklet that explains wills, trusts, probate, estate taxes and health care decision-making.  We also have a questionnaire that assists clients in gathering information about their assets and wishes.  A client’s responses help us determine whether they have an estate large enough to need estate tax reduction strategies. 

Planning Meeting.  At this meeting we review the information in the questionnaire and help clients think through the distribution or future shepherding of assets based on survivor needs and abilities and other considerations.  For married clients, we use diagrams to explain how a credit shelter trust for the surviving spouse may reduce estate taxes.  We also discuss the appointment of an executor and directives for health care decisions.  For clients have minor children, we address issues concerning guardians and distribution of trust funds. 

Draft Documents.  We send clients drafts of their estate planning documents, often accompanied by a diagram illustrating the operation of the plan and a letter that explains all portions of the plan that are tailored or specialized for the clients. Documents include at least a will, a personal property list, and a durable power of attorney for financial and health care decisions. Clients with taxable estates may choose to establish a revocable living trust rather than use a will as the primary planning document. Depending on the clients’ circumstances, we may recommend having an agreement as to the status of property, which defines what is separate and what is community.

Questions and Revisions.  We next obtain feedback and comments from clients and answer their questions about the proposed documents and revise the drafts as desired.

Signing Meeting.  When all of the documents are in order, we schedule a meeting for the clients to sign before witnesses. 

Preservation of Documents.  Many of our clients prefer to hold their originally-signed documents, but we can also keep the original documents in a fireproof safe in our offices.  We send our clients copies of all documents in an indexed notebook, accompanied by a completion letter and instructions on beneficiary designations for life insurance and retirement accounts, as well as how to title property. 

Fee Policy.  To provide certainty to our clients, we often prepare first estate plans for a fixed fee or agree to a maximum fee.  We generally propose a fee agreement after an initial consultation.  We do not charge for the initial meeting if the clients decide not to use our firm for their estate planning. 

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 “Westbound to the Peninsula” by Ted Kutscher, 2009