The process of preparing a client’s first estate plan usually involves five steps:
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.
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
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.
We next obtain feedback and comments from clients and answer their
questions about the proposed documents and revise the drafts as desired.
Meeting. When all of
the documents are in order, we schedule a meeting for the clients to sign before
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.
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.