Preparing to See an Attorney About a New Estate Plan

You have put it off and put it off as long as you could, but now the day of has arrived. It is time to see your attorney about preparing a new will and other documents for your estate plan. As the day draws near, you ask yourself, what should I bring to the meeting? How long will it take? What should I expect? How soon will I be able to actually sign my new documents?

The procedure used by our office is that we make appointment for you to come in and talk to one of the attorneys about your estate planning needs. This is called the initial interview. Once we discuss what you need, we will then prepare the documents necessary to carry out your estate plan. We mail those documents to you for your review. Then you come in to sign the documents. Most estate planning interviews, the first step in the process, will take about an hour. Usually the draft documents are mailed out within one week after the interview. We usually schedule the signing of the documents about two weeks after the initial interview. Of course, the time frames vary by the complexity of the documents and whether there is an emergent need. In general, the more complicated the documents, the more time we will need to prepare them. In emergent situations, the time frames are shorter; sometimes the documents are even prepared and signed the same day.

What should you bring to an estate plan interview? In general you should bring any existing wills, living wills and powers of attorney which you may have. A copy is as good as an original for this purpose. You should also bring the names and addresses of those people who will be named in your documents. If you wish to leave money to a charity, it is a good idea to bring some information from that charity showing its correct name and address.

In addition, you should bring along enough of your financial information so that the attorney can determine your financial net worth. This will help the attorney to determine whether you will have any estate tax issues, as well as having an idea of how your assets should be distributed. It is not necessary to bring along every financial statement that you have. Rather, having knowledge of each financial account (such as bank accounts, brokerage accounts, mutual funds etc,), the name on the account and the amount in the account is enough. For real estate that you own, you should know its current value as well as the outstanding mortgage balance, if any. For insurance policies, you should know the amount of the policy and the names of the beneficiaries. You should also have information as to your current income.

Prior to seeing the attorney, you should consider how you would want your assets distributed upon your passing. In most cases it will probably be to your spouse, if one exists, and then to your children and their children. You should take into consideration the possibility that one of the persons named in your will may pass away before you. In that case, how would you want your assets distributed? You should also consider whether you wish to make any gifts of personal items to specific persons. This can be put into the will.

You should consider who you would want to be the executor of you will. The executor is the person appointed by the court to carry out the terms of the will. If you have children under the age of 18, you will want to consider who you will name as guardian to take care of them until they reach the age of 18 and whether you want to appoint a trustee to take care of the money until they are old enough to handle it themselves.

The interview should take about an hour. Typically, this office will schedule the date upon which you will return to sign the documents. We strive to have the documents ready to be signed within two weeks of your interview.

Once the information is gathered, we will then prepare a draft of the documents and send them to you for review. This is the time for you to make sure the documents say what you want them to say and that the names of the person in the documents are all correct. If there are any changes that need to be made, you should call the attorney’s office and tell them the changes. If this is anything in the documents which you do not understand, now is the time to ask. Usually at this point the date for the signing is confirmed.

On the date of signing, you will be asked to read the documents one last time. You will be asked to sign the will before the witnesses and a notary. The actual signing should take less than 30 minutes.

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