Creating a comprehensive estate plan requires a thorough assessment of your holdings, your family structure and the people you want to provide for. Of course, the average person doesn’t have an in-depth understanding of the multi-faceted estate planning process, and no attorney will expect you to appear at your first meeting with all the answers in hand. However, you can make the process more efficient and help to ensure that the attorney has all of the information he or she needs to advise you.
While every family’s finances and goals differ somewhat, the information below will be helpful in most estate planning consultations. In addition, assembling this information will help you form a clearer picture of your holdings, liabilities, beneficiaries, and objectives.
Estate Planning Attorney Checklist
The information below will give you a great jump start when meeting with an estate planning attorney, but don’t let it become an obstacle to moving forward. Gather the information you have available and go ahead with the consultation. If additional information is required, the attorney can tell you exactly what you need and can advise you as to how to obtain it.
- A rough breakdown of assets and liabilities
- Life insurance policies with beneficiary information
- A listing of real estate holdings, including location and how the property is titled
- A listing of retirement accounts, including type and whether there is a listed beneficiary
- A listing of bank and investment accounts
- A listing of tangible personal property such as automobiles, boats, and jewelry
- A description of any business interests such as operation of a sole proprietorship, partnership, or whole or part ownership of a corporation
- Money owed to you
This list may not be exhaustive, but will provide a solid starting point for thinking about and discussing your estate plan.
- Marital status and spouse’s information
- Names and ages of minor children, including information about the other parent if they are not children of your current spouse
- Adult children, including information about their parentage
- Others you may wish to provide for through your estate plan
Your attorney will also want to know if any of your beneficiaries or prospective heirs have special needs, and whether you have concerns about leaving money directly to any of your children or other proposed beneficiaries.
Existing Estate Planning Documents and Past Activity
If you’ve implemented portions of an estate plan in the past, whether on your own or working with another estate planning attorney, your attorney will need to know what steps you have taken and the status of those efforts. For example:
- If you have an existing will, advise your attorney and, if possible, provide him or her with a copy
- If you have a living trust or have created another type of trust, such as a special needs trust, provide your attorney with trust documents
- If you are already engaging in planned giving to reduce estate taxes, describe your current plan and provide your attorney with an accounting of gifts already made or scheduled
- Be prepared to discuss strategic titling of property for purposes of creating rights of survivorship or other benefits
People and Organizations
Of course, in addition to the technical information, you’ll want to be prepared to discuss the people you want to protect and those you are considering for fiduciary roles such as trustee or administrator of your estate. While your perspective may change as you discuss these issues with your attorney, it is helpful to consider questions such as:
- Who do I want to provide for through my will or other estate planning vehicle?
- Who would I want to take guardianship over my minor children if I weren’t here to care for them?
- Who would I want to be responsible for my medical decision-making if I were incapacitated?
- Who would I choose to appoint to administer my estate or a trust I created for the benefit of my children or other loved ones?
- Is there certain property that I would want to specifically bequeath to an individual, a museum, or another entity?
Remember that this list is to jump start your estate planning by allowing you to consider important components of your estate plan in advance of meeting with an estate planning attorney and to ensure that you have adequate information to make the most of your time with the lawyer. Don’t be intimidated by the amount of information to be considered—that’s why you’re hiring a professional. Just gather as much information as you can and then arrive prepared to discuss and adapt.