By RANDY RATLIFF
You’ve taken the first step in getting your estate plan together: you’ve scheduled an appointment with an estate planning attorney. But what will that meeting entail and how do you prepare to begin working on your estate plan and will?
During your first meeting with an estate planning attorney, he or she will ask you a few important questions: What do you own? How do you own it (sole owner, partnership, etc.)? What your family make-up includes? What are the dynamics within your family? Then the question that surprises most people when asked: What are your values? It is essential that an estate attorney know your values, what is important to you and what things matter to you to help you in the process.
I like to tell my clients that it’s more important to pass along your values before your valuables.
These questions help an estate planning attorney craft a plan. Usually, you will sit with your attorney and unpack these questions and explore how you want to handle your estate. Often, people will include an expression of faith in their will. This is a memorandum of sorts that explains your values and outlines any charitable plans you may have in your plan or will. It also allows you to tell your loved ones what you were thinking and feeling when you put together your plan, as it is most often not shared with these family members until after your death.
It is a given that an estate plan will cover the task of distributing your assets after your death, but a good estate plan goes further and should also include guardianship designations, especially if you have minor children; power of attorney; healthcare power of attorney; a letter of intent; and, often, trusts. The most difficult of these is deciding upon guardianship. A few factors to consider when deciding upon guardianship include – who shares your values and will raise your children according to them, geographical proximity to other family members that are important to your children, and demonstrated financial responsibility.
The main reason to spend the time doing this work – and it is why I got into this aspect of law – is that having a well-developed estate plan shows your loved ones that you care about them and don’t want them to have to worry about these things after you pass away. You don’t want them, to use an old expression, to have to go all over Hell and half of Georgia to figure out what your wishes were and where how to locate your assets.
So, as the holiday season approaches, consider giving your loved ones a gift by putting together a estate plan.