A thorough and complete estate plan must take into account a significant amount of information about your assets, your family, your property, and your wishes during and after your life. When you make your first appointment with an estate planning attorney, ask the attorney or the paralegal if they can provide a written list of important information and documents that you should bring to the meeting.
Generally speaking, you should gather the following information before your first appointment with your estate planning lawyer.
List the names, birth dates, death dates, and ages of all immediate family members, specifically current and former spouses, all children and stepchildren, and all grandchildren.
If you have any young or adult children with special needs, gather all information you have about their lifetime financial needs.
For all real property you own or can reasonably expect to acquire, gather the property description, your ownership interest information, the address, market value, any outstanding mortgage balance, and the most recent tax assessment.
For any personal property of value (such as vehicles, jewelry, coins, antiques, stamps, and art), compile a list that includes a description, the physical location of each item, your ownership interest information, the market value, and any liens against the property.
If you have an ownership interest in a business, make sure you have documents showing your ownership interest in the business, the business location, the names and contact information of other owners, and 2-3 years of past profit and loss statements.
Compile a list of all your financial accounts, including: checking accounts, savings accounts, investment accounts, stocks and bonds, and U.S. Treasury notes. If any of these accounts currently have designated beneficiaries, bring that information as well.
Gather all retirement savings information, including 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans, IRAs, life insurance policies, Social Security statements, and pension information. Make sure you have the account names, account numbers, current balances, outstanding loan balances, and currently named beneficiaries.
If any family members owe you debts, compile that information.
Questions to Think About
The following are some of the first questions your estate planning attorney will ask. You are not required to have answers ready for all these questions, but because some of them are complex, it is a good idea to think through these issues before your appointment.
- Who will be beneficiaries of your property?
- Do you want to bequeath any specific items of property to specific individuals?
- Is there anyone you do not want to be a beneficiary of any of your property?
- Do you plan to make any bequests to any nonprofit organizations – university, church, charity, or other organization?
- Do you know who you want to act as executor of your will?
- Do you know who you want to act as trustee of any trusts you establish?
- If you have minor children, who do you want to appoint as guardian?
- Do you want to make arrangements for your health and financial well-being in the event you become unable to make decisions for yourself?
- Do you have specific wishes for your funeral?
- Are you a registered organ donor?
During your initial consultation, your estate planning attorney will review your family and financial situation, discuss your wishes, answer your questions and suggest strategies to protect your family, wealth and legacy.