Those who fail to prepare should prepare to fail. That may sound like a motivational poster from the hall of a high school or something a football coach would bark at his team during a summer workout. However, it is our experience at the Law Office of Bryan Fagan that it is also a true statement when concerned with any legal matter that may confront you. Even if you have the best intentions or the noblest of goals, the failure to prepare can be disastrous for you and your family when it relates to a complex legal matter.
When it comes to meeting with an estate planning attorney for a consultation you may not have the foggiest idea of what you should be preparing for. Unlike a family law or other civil case, it is not as if you are going to be filing a case against another person or that another person has sued you (likely). Rather, you are getting in touch with an attorney to take the first steps toward learning more about the estate planning process. In your mind, you will be relying upon the lawyer to perform most of the heavy lifting for you. You just brought your checkbook and are prepared to scribble some zeroes to help make that happen.
While you wouldn’t be the first person to go about the process of estate planning in this way you also wouldn’t be the first person who would potentially suffer the consequences for having done so. You can wander your way into a meeting with an attorney, but it is difficult to just wander out and simultaneously accomplish all your goals. Goal setting is an important part of this discussion but if you don’t know where to begin it is difficult to imagine a scenario where you could effectively create goals for yourself. How do you get from Point A, where you are now, to Point B, where you want to get to with your estate plan?
A great deal of that discussion has to do with understanding that at some point in time you and I will no longer be living. That is to say that we will die. This is an unavoidable part of life and one that you may ponder from time to time. Every person knows that our time on earth is finite. However, many of us don't stop considering the consequences of this unavoidable truth. What we do now and the steps we now take to plan for end-of-life scenarios will help to determine how our families and potential beneficiaries are positioned for that moment. If we choose to be proactive and plan for the end of our lives, then those people will remember our legacy as such. However, if we choose to be idle and do nothing regarding end-of-life planning then there can be consequences for those we care about the most.
What is a consultation?
Simply put a consultation with an attorney is an opportunity for you to share information about your circumstances, receive information about the law, and discuss any questions you may have about estate planning. In some cases, this may be your first experience ever talking to and turning about a legal matter. Going to an unfamiliar office to speak with an attorney, or even speaking to one over the phone, can be a bit of an intimidating experience. This is not even to mention how the subject matter that you will be discussing is extremely personal and can be uncomfortable to discuss as well.
fortunately for you, an inexperienced estate planning attorney will understand this and can help guide your discussion in a productive direction. Do not go into these consultations with the assumption that the attorney is going to judge you or think less of you because you may not have a great understanding of the world of estate planning. On the contrary, the attorney understands that most people do virtually nothing their entire lives when it comes to estate planning. Rather, most people wait until the very end of their lives to get their affairs in order. The fact that you are being proactive and even thinking about this subject when you have an opportunity speaks volumes of your character as well as your desire to leave a strong legacy for your family.
Be prepared with the basic information for your family
When it comes time to schedule a consultation that is free of charge with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan you should be prepared to provide basic information ahead of time to our office if we ask you for it. This is not to keep the information or to otherwise make use of it for any other purpose than being prepared ourselves for the consultation. Our estate planning attorneys want to be able to understand your family on a basic level as well as your financial situation. When we understand the makeup of your family and your financial circumstances and goals the attorney who meets with you can better provide you with information that may be of assistance to you when it comes to estate planning.
Ultimately, our office does not want to waste your time. We would prefer to be able to share information with you in the most expedient manner possible so that you can feel like you were guided without having your time overburdened. The more specific you can be with the information you provide to our office the better information we can give you as far as what might be in your best interests in that of your family considering your goals. Incomplete or less than accurate information means that our office can only provide you with a limited amount of benefit in this consultation. Since we want to make it worth you're while the more thorough you can be the better for you and our attorney.
Begin to gather important documents and new paragraph
Whether you get them ready for a consultation with one of our attorneys or for the process of drafting the will itself, you will need to begin to collect important documentation that is critical to the estate planning process. Do not expect an attorney from our office to sit down with you and pour over the details of each of these documents. However, the sooner you can locate these documents the better off you will be. It can be quite frustrating to be ready to draft a will only to find that you cannot locate one document or another period rather, spend the time locating these documents now so that you will not have to do so later in the process.
One circumstance where you will need to collect important documents regarding deeds for real estate. An example of this would be if you wanted to create a trust and move ownership of all your property into the trust. To do this, you will need the exact language about how the property is currently held. This means in whose name the property is titled. Other examples include the legal description of the property. You can locate this information online but having a physical copy of the deed or title is what you need. You may even come to find out that the deed or title is not filed with the Court House and that is something you can do as well while you undergo the process of estate planning.
More simple financial documents include bank statements as well as investment account statements. Bank statements include accounts like checking, savings, and money markets that you may have at your local credit union or bank. Investment accounts include brokerage or retirement savings like your IRA or 401K. The statements must show where your account is held, and the account numbers in the balances in each account. You can download a PDF file that shows all this information. Your attorney will prepare a listing of all your assets for a will and this information can be included in that list of assets.
Things to keep in mind if you are a business owner
Being a small business owner or entrepreneur means that you have a few other considerations to keep in mind as you plan for end-of-life scenarios and general estate planning. Owning a small business means that you will put a lot of work and thought into the creation of the business and how it is structured as well as the overall business plan. If you have any business agreements or documents that show how your business is structured, then you should provide that to your attorney once you decide to hire one for estate planning purposes. This is including any leases or other agreements that purchase property or other assets related to a business.
One of the most important documents that can be included in your state plan would be anything having to do with your business that indicates a Need to sell or otherwise get rid of an interest in a property or business upon your death. How that property or asset will be treated upon your passing is critical to include in a trust or will. Your business partners will need to be able to rely upon your estate planning documents to ensure that their interests are protected at the time of your passing.
What to do if you already have a will or trust
If you have already created a will, trust, or other power of attorney document and you should bring those with you whenever you meet with the attorney even for a first appointment. Whatever you and your new attorney decide to do as far as amending a document it is important to make sure that you are following any terms laid out in any of the prior forms. A will is fairly simple to draft a new version of but other documents may need to be updated according to the terms outlined in a prior version.
At this stage, you should also decide whether you want to keep the same executor or other persons with power of attorney about your case. You can talk with your attorney about the people in your life and who is best suited to serve in those capacities. You may find that your executors need to be updated for any number of reasons. While it is not necessary to update your executor or other persons in estate planning documents it may be considering the length of time between now and the last time you updated these documents.
Many people assume that they should choose their oldest child to fulfill these responsibilities. Rather, you should take stock of your family and choose the person who you think is most capable of fulfilling these roles. It may be that it is your oldest child who is in the best position to share the responsibility. However, it might be someone else completely different that you had never considered previously. Either way, you should put some serious thought into this subject and then make sure to contact the proposed executor or trustee to make sure that he or she is comfortable and competent to fulfill their role as a part of your estate plan.
How do you want to divide your assets out of the estate?
This is probably the most intentional you need to be during the entire estate planning process. Being able to select what property of yours goes to which person is one of the great rights that we as Americans hold. The alternative is that a probate court judge would make those decisions for you. Imagine a family member, friend, or another person who could stand to benefit from your generosity and property who would go without because you were not intentional about creating an estate plan.
When you first meet with an estate planning attorney it would be wise to think of what you want to do as far as dividing property. It doesn't have to be a final draft or even all that well thought out at this stage. All you need to do is sit and think. Who could stand to benefit most from your property after you pass on? Who do you want to receive the property? Sometimes the answer to these questions is the same person. Sometimes it will be a different person. Either way, it pays to have some idea of what you want to do before meeting with an attorney. That way, the attorney can provide you with their basic impressions of your plan and at least give you some things to consider.
Being comfortable enough to ask questions of your attorney is a key part of this entire process. Remember that you are there to learn. The attorney that you meet with should be prepared to act as a teacher and listener rather than someone who spends the entire meeting talking. While you will need an attorney to provide you with feedback, that can only occur once he or she has spent a fair portion of a meeting doing some listening. Only then can you get a fair idea of what the attorney thinks about your plan.
One of the most basic questions that I think more people should ask, but rarely do, is how we as attorneys work on cases. How an attorney works on a client’s case may differ a great deal from how you work on a project at your job. Understanding the timeline of a case, how much work goes into drafting documents, how many times you can expect to meet with the attorney before your documents are ready and a host of other steps can be learned simply by asking. I find that people are a lot more understanding of delays and more trusting of us as attorneys if you know what we are doing with our time and your money. When you have an open line of communication with your attorney then you can stand to accomplish a great deal as a team. That all begins at the initial consultation.
Otherwise, there is not a whole lot that goes into a consultation with an attorney for an estate planning matter. Simply sitting down and going over what you think is important, what you worry about the most, and what your circumstances are is what the meeting will amount to. No magic happens in one of these consultations. However, you can find yourself in a stronger position because of meeting with an attorney. Information is power and that is where a great attorney is worth their weight in gold. If you don’t believe me, you can give our office a call right now to put my theory to the test.
Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material contained in today’s blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas estate planning law as well as how your family’s circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a probate case.