Walking into a law firm to start your estate plan—even when it is only a simple will—can be an overwhelming experience. But being aware of what you are getting into can get you ready for the experience. The more you grasp the process, the more at ease you should be regarding planning your estate.
The estate lawyers are going to certainly have a lot of questions for you. To start, they are going to want practically all of your financial and other personal details. It is going to help you when you have a couple of questions on hand to ask them when you arrive.
The estate planning process can be straightforward or complicated. It can be a straightforward estate plan with only a will or include other estate planning documentation like trusts, life insurance policies, a living will, retirement accounts, POA, taxation, gifts, and other things.
The following are a couple of questions to help you get started with your estate planning lawyer. This list of questions is obviously not everything that you could ask, but they might lead to other questions that are going to help settle you into the discussion and provide you with the confidence to progress with the process, with the knowledge that you understand what is happening.
What do I Require in My Estate Plan?
Your estate plan and estate planning documentation should be based around a partnership among you, your lawyer, and your financial advisor(s). A lot of people have at the least a will, general or DPOA, MPOA, and a living will. However, there are additional factors of an estate plan, and you and your team need to decide what is right for you prior to you starting. Ask your lawyer at your initial meeting what the ideal estate plan would be for you and your beneficiaries.
I’m not loaded. Why do I even need one?
A complete estate plan includes a will, but also other documentation such as POA and a living will. But even devoid of a fortune to dispense, a will gives you control over several things following your passing away, comprising of:
- Who is going to be the guardian of your minor children.
- How your property is going to be allocated, even when it is only a couple of pieces of jewelry, home decor, artwork, etc. When you do an inventory of all of your property, you might be astonished at what it is all valued at.
- Straighten out confusion regarding your wishes, so that your surviving relatives are not under pressure to try to decide what you would have wanted, or don’t get into a squabble concerning it.
- Be sure that your property or money is going to go to the individuals you want to have it.
How Does This Law Firm Operate?
One of the most significant factors of using a law firm to create your estate plan is having assurance that that firm is the appropriate one for you. Below are a couple of questions you can ask concerning the firm itself and the way it communicates.
What is the amount you charge? Don’t be scared to ask this question towards the beginning of the initial meeting, or possibly before that. They need to break down their fee structure either by flat fee or an hourly rate. The flat fee is going to be associated to each specific piece of estate planning or might cover the whole estate plan. You should have these details going in.
Does your office specify in estate cases? Another way of asking this: What percent of your business is estate cases? The reasoning you ask these types of questions is to be sure the lawyers in the firm have enough experience with probate procedures to manage every one of your requirements. The more knowledge they have, the better they should be able to deal with your personal circumstances.
One factor that could impact this topic is the size of the law firm and where it is located at. In smaller towns and cities, lawyers usually have a general practice that involves various areas of the law. One lawyer or firm might practice domestic affair law, estate law, criminal justice, etc. The larger the city, the more particularized a lawyer typically is. Inquire about how many estate cases the firm has settled in the last 5 years to get a feel for how much proficiency they have.
Another significant part of your relationship with your lawyer is the way of communication that is set up among you and the lawyer’s firm. Know what that is prior to you leaving the law firm following the initial meeting. Below are some questions to inquire back:
How often are you going to communicate with me following the papers being signed? A firm in which specializes in estate planning is going to often charge an optional, small continual fee to contact you every six to twelve months to both keep you up to date on changes to probate and estate law that might impact you, and also to report to see if your situation has changed in ways that might impact your estate plan. It is wise to do this. Small-scale/solo law firms may have a challenging time doing this, so keep that in mind.
Who else am I going to speak with in the firm other than my lawyer? There might be situations in which you are not going to be able to speak to your lawyer (when they are on vacation, gets retired, passes away, etc.). The firm should have communication formalities that includes other lawyers, administrators, secretaries, paralegals, etc.
How are you going to communicate with my financial and other advisors? More complicated estate plans are a group effort between a set of consultants, and proper lines of communication are required to be set up between all of those people prior to the estate plan being drawn up. Your lawyer is always going to want the final say, but at the end of the day, going to be up to you to make decisions.
Questions About Property Allocation
A lot of your estate plan going to allocate your property to your beneficiaries. Below are some basic questions to ask about that property allocation.
What happens with jointly owned property?
A lot of individuals own property jointly with another individual or other individuals. These joint property cases typically come up if you own property or have accounts with your husband or wife or other relatives. Common instances of joint property comprise of homes, businesses, investment properties, vehicles, and financial institution accounts.
Mainly, ownership documentation is going to determine what happens to the decedent’s portion of that property following death. The decedent is able to transfer ownership assets through the will if that portion of the property is owned by that decedent, depending on several potential hindrances. These hindrances can comprise of liens on that property, in addition to “Transfer on Death” and “Payable on Death” constraints.
A lawyer can examine all those documents and establish how those ownership interests should be transferred following death.
Do I need a revocable living trust?
A living trust, when properly created, is a method to bypass probate court or probating your estate when you pass away. This is contrary to a will, in which is probated, even when there is no taxation, or it is a empty-asset estate.
Living trusts transfers ownership of your property into a trust in which you oversee. It is a convoluted part of estate planning in which might or might not be in you or your beneficiaries best interests, and should be a topic of discussion with your lawyer.
What Should I Know About Estate Taxes?
The question of estate taxes depends on where you live and the amount your estate is valued at. Your lawyer and financial consultants are going to give you the correct tax advice.
Federal estate taxes
Unless you are an affluent individual, you really do not have to be concerned with estate taxes. There is no federal estate taxes on estates valued at less than $11.2 million until 2026, when the limit decreased to $5.6 million. Should you have that type of money, you most likely have financial advisors that can guide you through the ins and outs of federal estate taxation. When not, you should locate one.
State estate and inheritance taxes
17 states and Washington DC have estate and/or inheritance taxes. Should you reside in one of these areas, you are going to need to speak about these taxes with your lawyer.
Parts of estate planning could include giving portions of the estate to a beneficiary prior to you passing away. Should you do this to bypass probate, you could run into gift taxes. These taxes might be required to be paid by the bestower. They’re not to be paid by the recipient of the gift.
A federal gift tax exclusion amount is $15,000 annually. Meaning you can give anyone a gift worth up to that amount every year with no federal tax repercussions. Any more than that, and you will be required for paying a gift tax.
Only a couple of states impose a gift tax. Ask your lawyer when you reside in one of them.
More Questions? A Lawyer Can Provide Assistance
Estate planning can be a very complicated topic. Besides just writing a straightforward will, it requires the counsel, contribution, and professional skills of an estate-planning lawyer and other financial professionals. The more complicated the estate, the more you are going to need the assistance from these professionals.
Richard Weiner, E. (2021, September 27). 5 important estate planning question to ask a lawyer. Findlaw. Retrieved December 2, 2022, from https://www.findlaw.com/estate/planning-an-estate/five-important-estate-planning-questions-to-ask-a-lawyer.html
There’s nothing better than the peace of mind you will have knowing you’ve protected your family at a time when they need it most. Let us help. Schedule a consultation or contact Ogborne Law, PLC of Arizona today.