Before you meet with your estate planning attorney, you’ll want to gather some important information to bring with you. Here are ten things you can do to prepare for your estate planning consultation.
Gather Any Previously Drafted Estate Planning Documents
If this isn’t your first time doing estate planning, bring your previous documents to show your new attorney. This includes a last will and testament, codicils (amendments) to your will, a durable power of attorney, an advance healthcare directive (also called a living will), a trust agreement, and any letters of instruction.
Gather Important Family Information
Your estate attorney will need the full name and date of birth for your children, your grandchildren, and any other relatives you may gift assets to (parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.). It’s a good idea to write down their addresses, too.
Choose Someone to Manage Your Affairs if You Become Incapacitated
Should you ever lose the capacity to handle your affairs or communicate important medical decisions, you’ll need someone to act and speak on your behalf. This individual will need the proper authority to access your financial accounts, pay your bills, access medical records, and discuss treatment options with doctors. Most people default to their spouse or an adult child for this position, but you are free to choose whomever you’d like. Your attorney will help you to empower this person with a durable power of attorney.
Consider Your End-of-Life Healthcare Preferences
On a similar note, your attorney will help you draft a living will to dictate your healthcare preferences if you are unable to communicate them yourself. Also known as an advance healthcare directive, this document should address a number of healthcare topics, including palliative care (treatments to alleviate pain and suffering), cancer treatments, resuscitation, and artificial life support. The document can be as broad or as specific as you’d like. To prepare for this, consider matters such as what treatments you are okay with, if you condone artificial life support, and if you wish to be allowed a natural death (formally known as a do-not-resuscitate order).
Plan Your Funeral and Burial Arrangements
Consider if you want to be buried or cremated, where your remains should go, and any special requests for the funeral or memorial. Rather than putting this in your will, your attorney will probably advise you to write these preferences in a separate letter of instruction to be left with a family member. It’s also wise to discuss these matters with your loved ones, so they know of your plans ahead of time.
Choose a Guardian for Your Children
When selecting a guardian for your children, you don’t necessarily have to go with a family member. Anyone can look after children, but you’re not looking for a babysitter—you need someone trustworthy who will raise your children well, hopefully similar to how you would raise them yourself. Be sure to check with the potential guardian to make sure they will accept the responsibility, as they are not bound by your will and have the right to decline. It’s also a good idea to choose an alternate guardian, in case the primary guardian passes away or declines the responsibility.
Nominate an Executor
Your executor will serve as the personal representative to your estate. When you die, they will be tasked with settling your affairs and distributing your assets according to the instructions in your will. It’s important to choose some who is trustworthy, honest, fair, and savvy enough to handle the job. In today’s modern world it may be wise to choose someone who is technologically savvy, too. As with your selected guardian, you should speak with this individual to give them the opportunity to accept or decline, and you should designate a backup executor. If you fail to nominate an executor, or if the executor declines after your death, the probate court will be forced to appoint a third-party administrator. The administrator should be fair and unbiased, but they may not handle your estate the way you’d like.
Choose Your Beneficiaries
You should already have a list of important family members, with proper identifying information. Now, whittle that list down to the people to whom you’d like to gift assets. When you’re done, consider adding any friends, business partners, organizations, or charities, and seek identifying information for them, too. Consider if any of these beneficiaries should receive assets under special conditions, such as waiting to gift assets to minor children until they turn 18, or specifying that certain funds are intended for higher education.
Gather Your Assets
This will probably be the greatest task as you prepare for your estate plan. You’ll need to gather account statements, titles, property deeds, and any documents assessing the value of personal property, such as receipts or appraisals. This will help your attorney to account for all of your assets in your will, and it will be immensely helpful for your executor’s reference when they close your estate.
Start with your liquid assets, as these are the easiest to value and document. Find the most recent account statements for your bank accounts, CDs, brokerage accounts, stocks, bonds, retirement accounts, and precious metals (gold, silver). Also, account for expected death benefits for life insurance, annuities, and other insurance policies.
Next, take inventory of your illiquid assets. This includes real estate, cars, trucks, recreational vehicles, boats, jewelry, collectibles, furniture, electronics, guns, and other valuable items. As a rule of thumb, if it’s worth more than $100, it’s worth including in your inheritance.
Finally, be sure to include your digital assets. Your digital estate can include valuable assets such as virtual currency, websites or personal blogs, domain names, and copyrighted music, videos, and photographs; it can also include items with sentimental value, such as family photos and videos. For all of your digital assets, jot down the associated account credentials.
Once you have an inventory of your assets, it’s time to direct how they should be transferred. Begin by assigning specific bequests for large or otherwise valuable assets, especially the house, vehicles, furniture, jewelry, and collectibles. Once the big items are accounted for, consider if there are any other specific items which you’d like to assign. This includes valuable personal property, and items with sentimental value. Don’t worry too much about these smaller items, as they can be broadly swept into your will. The important thing is to make sure the items that are most important to you are transferred to the right people.
Call our Arizona Estate Planning team at (480)467-4325 to discuss your case today.