How to Begin the Estate Planning Process

How do we get started? What will my spouse and I need for the first meeting with our estate planning attorney?

Once you have found an estate planning attorney who is right for you, you should ask the attorney what you need to do to get the estate planning process under way. Most estate planning attorneys will have some sort of information sheet which you can fill out in order to outline in detail the specifics of your finances for the initial consultation.

This information sheet will ask you to provide a list of all of the assets you own, and the way you hold title to each of the assets – individually, jointly, or as community property – on your financial statement. You should have a reasonably accurate idea of the fair market value of each of your assets and the amounts of the indebtedness against them.

If you are married, both of you should attend the first meeting with your attorney and be prepared to discuss, at least in general terms, how your property and assets should be administered if one or both of you should become disabled; how your property and assets should be administered and distributed after one of you dies; and how your property and assets should be administered and distributed after you both have died. During your meeting, your attorney will be able to help you define your very specific goals and objectives to an extent that you might not have been able to do in advance of your first meeting.

What else do I need to bring to the first planning session?

It would be very helpful to your attorney if you would bring the following items with you (the attorney’s assistant will be glad to make copies of them for his or her files):

  1. Any prior wills, trusts, or other estate planning documents
  2. Details of Assets and Liabilities
  3. Information regarding names, birth dates, and other facts you deem pertinent concerning you and your family

How long does the planning process take?

There are essentially three blocks of time that will be required of you during the estate planning process:

  • The first block of time constitutes that time in which detailed information is accumulated and shared with the estate planning attorney in setting forth your hopes, dreams, aspirations, and planning expectations.
  • The second block of time will be when you meet with the attorney to help design the specifics of your plan and to ultimately review and sign the estate planning documentation that he or she prepared on your behalf
  • The third block of time is involved in transferring the ownership of your assets into your various trust and planning vehicles.

The amount of time involvement for the first and last blocks is largely dependent on the number of assets you own and the degree of organization that exists prior to the planning process.

Generally speaking, for most but not all clients, the initial meeting with the attorney is accomplished in 1 to 4 hours; the review and signing of the estate planning documents is usually accomplished in 1 to 2 days; and the process of transferring the assets (“funding”) is a function of how well-organized you are and how rapidly you wish to go about funding assets into your trust.

Regardless of the time requirement you will have to commit to the planning process. It is generally a wonderful experience that should provide you with much satisfaction and comfort and an over-all sense of well-being.

How much of my confidential information must I disclose to my attorney?

Communications between an attorney and his or her client are privileged and the attorney has a duty to keep all client information confidential. In order to do a complete job of estate planning, the attorney must not be given partial information or incomplete truths. If you keep important matters to yourself, your estate plan will potentially suffer as a result.

How can I determine if I am getting a high-quality living trust plan?

There are several factors that distinguish the comprehensive, high-quality living trust plan from a run-of-the-mill or inadequate plan. A quality living trust-centered estate plan is:

  1. Prepared by an attorney who emphasizes estate planning in his or her practice.
  2. Prepared in a “user-friendly” manner.
  3. Funded with the appropriate assets after the documents are made operational.
  4. Prepared by an attorney who has a desire to maintain a continuing relationship with the family.

DR MERVIN MESSIAS

JD (Juris Doctor) / BA, LLB (Wits) / TEP (Trust & Estate Practitioner) / MTP (Master Tax Practitioner – S.A)

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