I prefer not to overburden a prospective estate planning client with unnecessary homework prior to our initial meeting. Procrastination is the biggest obstacle to planning. My approach is to avoid providing an additional obstacle to getting the process started. So how much preparation is necessary to make the meeting productive for all of the participants. First, I will describe the two extremes of preparation: no preparation and over-preparation. I will then conclude with describing the middle ground which usually leads to a very productive meeting.
LACK OF PREPARATION
It very seldom occurs that a meeting is totally unproductive due to a lack of preparation. The biggest cause of an unproductive meeting is a lack of attendance by all the necessary participants.
For married couples, both spouses need to be present.
- The only exceptions to this rule are the infrequent situation where each spouse uses their own separate estate planning attorney or where illness or disability make it impractical. If that might be the case, it should be discussed at the time the appointment is scheduled.
- If a spouse is ill or disabled, often arrangements can be made to meet at that spouse’s location. Then both spouses can be available together.
- When one spouse claims they can speak for another spouse and attends alone, usually a second meeting with the other spouse is also needed.
- Our firm’s policy is that both spouses must be present unless a justification can be provided at the time the meeting is scheduled.
Another potential situation with a missing participant is when a third party schedules a meeting to discuss planning for someone else. Usually it is a child trying to initiate the planning for a parent. It is critical to effective planning that the parent or parents participate from the start. This safeguards the process to ensure the plan is being prepared according to the parents’ wishes not the child’s.
The next most common cause of an unproductive meeting due to the lack of preparation is to arrive at the meeting without bringing any of the requested information.
- Our firm provides a meeting confirmation letter or email which lists what should be brought.
- It is understood that sometimes everything requested might not be available. It is just requested that you try to do your best.
If a client over-prepares for the initial meeting, it is usually due to a misunderstanding of the estate planning process. The goals of this article is to explain the level of preparation that gives the planning process the best opportunity to succeed. The over-prepared client is the one that believes they need to have all of their estate planning questions resolved before the initial meeting. The estate planners job is to guide the client through the process. You are not expected to have all your issues resolved before you arrive. It can be helpful to read a basic guide or attend an educational seminar. Our firm provides both. Still these steps are not required before we meet. Often times reading multiple books, articles, and attending seminar after seminar is just another form of procrastination. The best source of estate planning information should be the attorney you will be meeting with.
MIDDLE GROUND OF PREPARATION
Preparation for the initial estate planning consultation falls into three basic categories: people, places, and things. Our firm and most firms provide an organizer to complete before the initial meeting which captures all three of these areas.
- People: The estate planner needs to obtain biographical data on you and your family members. By having this information available, time can be spent learning about you and these individuals rather than spending the appointment time copying names, addresses and birthdays.
- Places: The addresses of the real estate you own.
- Things: A listing of your bank accounts, investment accounts, and retirement accounts. If you have existing estate planning documents, they should be provided for review. The estate planning attorney needs to know this information to make the best recommendation for your estate plan.
You should also be prepared to discuss: who you trust to handle your estate (property) and health care decisions if you are unable to make them yourself; who should receive your property upon your death; and any other concerns you might have. This preparation can usually be completed in a few hours. In addition to preparing for your meeting, you might also be surprised to discover how much wealth you have accumulated. But even if your estate is modest, an experienced estate planner will be able to recommend the appropriate plan for you.