Our estate planning process is a collaboration between us and our clients. The process itself is something we work with each client to define, so it varies from client to client. The time it takes to get from contacting us to a complete estate plan also varies from client-to client. Some clients wish to have their estate plans signed within a few weeks of contacting us, and we work to accommodate those clients. Many clients prefer to go through the process at a more leisurely pace.
All of that said, our estate planning process typically consists of the following phases: (1) information sharing, (2) designing the plan, (3) reviewing and revising the documents, and (4) signing and follow-up.
(1) Information Sharing
Let’s say you call or email one of our attorneys and say something like, “Hi, I think I need an estate plan. Can you help me?” The attorney would typically ask you if you have a few minutes to talk by phone about estate planning and whether we’re the right law firm to help you with your estate plan. If, at the end of that phone call, it seems like we would work well together, we’d schedule a meeting to talk about the details of your estate plan. If we’re planning the estates of you and your spouse, we would need both of you to participate in this meeting. We would also send a questionnaire for you to fill out and send back or bring to the meeting. The questionnaire asks you to fill in information about yourself, your family, and your assets. The questionnaire is extensive, but we ask that you just fill in just the information you have readily available. For someone who is unfamiliar with estate planning, we might also send some optional reading material.
(2) Designing the Plan
During our meeting, we would discuss how, exactly, your estate plan will work. We’d talk about things like who should manage your finances if you’re unable to do so yourself, whether you’d ever want anyone to “pull the plug” if you’re ill, who should receive your property when you pass away, how those people receive the property, and more. This meeting typically lasts between 45 minutes and 2 hours. Additional meetings, phone calls, and emails may be necessary, depending on your goals.
(3) Reviewing and Revising the Drafts
Once we’re all on the same page about how your estate plan should work, we would draft your estate planning documents. We’d send the draft documents to you (and your spouse, if we’re working with both of you) by mail and/or email to review at your convenience. We’d be available to discuss questions and changes as you go through the documents.
(4) Signing and Follow-Up
Once the documents are acceptable to you, we would arrange for you to sign them. We prefer to have our clients sign estate planning documents in our office, as we like to ensure the documents are executed correctly and to serve as the witnesses. Proper execution and credible, locatable witnesses can be helpful if any questions or challenges arise over your estate plan. We typically keep electronic copies of our clients’ estate planning documents and send the originals to the client.
Depending on the type of estate plan you signed and the nature of your assets, we may recommend some follow-up work. For example, if your estate plan included a revocable trust, the trust would need to be funded. We assist clients with as much or as little of the process of funding their trusts as they wish.
As time passes, laws, wishes, and circumstances change. These changes sometimes necessitate changes in estate plans. We suggest our clients assess their estate plans after significant life changes (births, deaths, marriages, divorces, significant changes in wealth, etc.) and at least every few years. We can assist with the assessment and any necessary updates.
If you would like to speak to us about estate planning, please feel free to contact one of our attorneys.