Estate Planning Process: What to Expect
The thought of hiring a lawyer can be daunting to some individuals. But when it comes to estate planning, your lawyer is not your adversary, your lawyer is your advisor and guide. Each lawyer has their own process when it comes to creating your estate plan, but it generally follows a similar outline.
During an initial consultation, which takes place prior to any retention of an attorney for their services, the attorney may share with you their process for creating an estate plan. You may also share information including your marital status, any children, a general list of your assets, and any concerns and/or goals you have.
After hiring the attorney, your first step is usually a meeting to discuss your choices for your estate plan. At Alta Legacy Law, we call it the Design Meeting. You usually review a concise list of your assets including how those assets are titled and the estimated value of each asset. Assets include real property, bank accounts, investment accounts, stocks, retirement accounts, entities, automobiles and anything titled in your name. You will also discuss your choices for your estate plan including trustees, beneficiaries, power of attorney agents, healthcare agents, healthcare choices, guardians for minor children and more.
Creating Your Estate Plan
Following the design meeting, the attorney will put together your estate plan. There may be follow up questions and additional information needed while the documents are being drafted. At Alta Legacy Law, we always review drafts prior to the signing stage to ensure that any changes or revisions can be addressed before the signing meeting. This may involve follow up emails and/or follow up meetings.
Signing and Notarization
In California, an estate plan is made valid and legal through notarization of all documents and through witnessing the Will, or Pour Over Will if you have a Trust-based plan. At your signing meeting, you will meet with a notary public who has been provided authority by the State of California to notarize documents, i.e., authenticate signatures on documents.
After the signing meeting, the attorney will provide you with the originals of your estate plan. At Alta Legacy Law, we digitize your estate plan documents to ensure that you have a digital copy. We also prepare the originals in a binder to help you properly store these important documents.
Maintenance and Review
Much like your automobile, an estate plan should be regularly maintained. With changes in the law and changes in your life, your estate plan should be updated to match those changes. Whatever your estate plan says when you pass away, is what will be.
Common triggers for updating an estate plan include (1) your trustee passed away, your trustee developed a cognitive impairment, and/or you no longer want that person to be trustee, (2) your healthcare agent or financial durable power of attorney agent passed away, your agent developed a cognitive impairment, and/or you no longer want that person to be your agent, (3) your beneficiaries passed away or you want to change your beneficiaries or their distributions, (4) a beneficiary is now receiving government based benefits and/or requires a special needs trust, (5) major changes with your assets (e.g. buying a new house), (6) you welcomed a new child, (7) your spouse died, (8) you have not updated your estate plan in 5-10 years, and (9) state and federal laws have changed.
The above examples are only a few reasons why your estate plan should be updated. If you are not sure whether or not your estate plan is due for changes, you should contact an estate planning attorney.
Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice. For specific guidance regarding your situation, please contact an attorney.