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Important Questions Your Estate Planning Attorney Will Ask You

Death and taxes may be guaranteed in life, but that doesn’t mean they’re pleasant things to talk about. So it’s no surprise if the thought of meeting with an estate planning attorney gives you some anxiety.

Many people delay putting together an estate plan for this reason. Unfortunately, doing so means they will be completely unprepared if/when something unfortunate happens to them or their loved ones.

We know that all the legal speak can be confusing and intimidating. Do you need a will? What exactly is a “living will”? Do you need a trust? Or do you need both? Which life insurance plan do you choose? Why are there so many to choose from?!

The good news is that estate planning isn’t as scary as you might think it is. For most, their fear is of the unknown. Not knowing what you’re going to encounter at an attorney’s office frequently leads people to imagine all kinds of horrible or uncomfortable scenarios and ultimately refuse to pull the trigger and set up an appointment.

By explaining some of the common questions you might get asked by an estate planning attorney, we hope to help you prepare for your first meeting and alleviate some of the fear and anxiety around it.

Common Questions You Might Get Asked By an Estate Planning Attorney

What’s the thing you worry about the most? In other words, what keeps you up at night with regards to your property, your family, and your future? By asking this question, an attorney is trying to find out why you wanted to meet with them in the first place. Finding out what your underlying concerns are will help the attorney be able to bring the right legal tools to bear in addressing those concerns. If the attorney is unable to address your concerns, they’ll be able to refer you to the right professional (such as financial, tax, or even healthcare professionals).

Maybe you’re at the attorney’s office simply because your financial or tax advisor told you to get an estate plan in place. Maybe these professionals have considered your financial and your potential future tax liability and are worried that without the tools only an attorney can provide, there may be a significantly higher tax bill for you or your family in the future.

Maybe you’re worried about being able to provide for your children. Maybe one of your children has a really rocky marriage, and you’re not sure if they’ll be able to provide for themselves and their children if the marriage ends. How can you protect whatever amount of an inheritance may end up passing to that child from a divorcing spouse?

Perhaps you have a child who has special needs and will have significant medical and living expenses in the future because of their condition. Or you have a child that cannot seem to get ahead in life, has substance abuse issues, or is simply irresponsible with money and regularly needs your help to get back on their feet and headed in the right direction.

If concerns such as these are at the front of mind, an attorney will want to understand your particular circumstances in order to properly draft legal documents that address these things.

An experienced estate planning attorney won’t rush getting to know the particular dynamics of your family. Asking detailed questions will help them determine where they should spend their time and effort to design an estate plan that will be perfect for your specific situation and concerns. If you feel as if the attorney is simply telling you what your concerns should be, instead of listening to you, consider finding a different one.

Worst-case scenario questions. “Imagine you’re on a cruise with your spouse, your kids, your grandkids, and even great-grandkids for a huge family reunion. The ship hits an iceberg and sinks. There are no survivors.”

Why on earth would an attorney want you to imagine your entire family going out in a Titanic-like incident? A question like this will actually be important in helping you identify where you would want your money to go if you were to pass away and had no remaining natural heirs left to inherit your money. Unfortunately, this is not entirely theoretical, as there are real-life cases of entire families perishing in a disaster. The laws vary by state determining where the money and property of someone with no heirs should go. If you don’t like what the legislature has decided for you on this question, you may want to change it in your estate plan. That way, you can make sure your favorite cousin/aunt/best friend/college/church receives your property.

Death and remarriage questions. Another common line of questioning often includes the following type of scenario: “Imagine you pass away and your spouse decides to marry someone else several months later. How comfortable would you be with the possibility of all of the money and property you acquired during your marriage becoming jointly owned by your surviving spouse and their new partner? Do you have any concerns about your spouse later dying and leaving everything to their new spouse either intentionally or inadvertently?”

This question is important because if you were to leave everything you own to your spouse, and they remarry without taking certain legal steps, they might put what you have left behind at risk of ending up in the hands of a total stranger rather than in the hands of your children or other beneficiaries.

Asking these types of death and remarriage questions will help you take steps now to ensure your property is as protected as possible. You can have peace of mind that in the event of a remarriage (or even if the surviving spouse is sued), you’ve exhausted every effort to keep your property from being lost to a new spouse, creditors, or predators. You’ve also ensured that what you leave behind will take care of your new spouse until they pass away, and then will go to the beneficiaries you’ve chosen.

Who do you want to care for your minor children if you’re no longer able to?

Your attorney will want to know your stance on who should care for your minor children if you no longer can. A similar question will be who should manage your property and accounts for the benefit of your minor children if you become disabled or pass away. Is the best-case scenario for the people raising your children to be in charge of that money? Or is there a chance that will invite potential financial abuse and exploitation by those guardians? Maybe it makes more sense to have a professional or another family member manage and distribute that money while someone else raises the children.

Who should make medical care decisions for you if you no longer can?

If you’re in a situation where you’re receiving healthcare services but can’t communicate your wishes regarding your care, who will make these decisions for you? Your spouse, a family member, a close friend?

Your attorney can help you explore the various healthcare scenarios you may encounter. They’ll also help you decide which decisions you feel comfortable entrusting to a healthcare agent and those you’d rather make yourself in advance (and documented so healthcare providers know what your wishes are). Let’s say you never want to be placed in a nursing home and prefer your money to be used to keep you in your own home as long as possible. Maybe you never want to receive chemotherapy, radiation, or electroshock therapy. An attorney can help you identify these scenarios and document your choices.

Conclusion

These are some common questions, but there may be others that will help your attorney uncover your desires and concerns. These can be scary, complex, and highly personal questions, so it’s important to find an attorney you feel comfortable with. Doing the hard work of thinking through these kinds of scenarios is an important first step toward responsibly planning for death and disability, which every single one of us will eventually face. Your loved ones will be thankful for your effort.

When you’re ready to get started, call Santaella Legal Group, serving San Ramon, Danville, Dublin, Pleasanton & the Tri-Valley area, at (925) 831-4840.

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