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4 Critical Questions to Ask Your Estate Planning Attorney

Creating an estate plan is a highly personal and often emotional endeavor. That's why choosing the right estate planning attorney is so essential. Here are some questions you should ask your estate planning attorney to determine if they are the right person for the job.

1. Why did you pick estate planning as your primary practice area?

At its core, estate planning is personal. Many estate planning attorneys have experiences that influenced their decision to specialize in this area. Asking this question can help you get to know your attorney and their reasons for practicing the way they do. These attorneys are passionate about their work and happy to share their background and the experiences that brought them to choose estate planning as their practice area. Their answer to this question will be very telling. If the attorney you are considering has no particular reason for choosing estate planning, it might be a sign to keep looking.

2. What is your process?

If you're new to estate planning, the unknowns can be intimidating. Knowing how your attorney works can help alleviate some of your fear. The estate planning process can vary depending on the attorney and their level of planning. For example, some attorneys may meet with a client only once before signing documents and then don't reach out again unless the client initiates it. Other attorneys have multiple meetings before signing the documents and additional follow-up meetings afterward. Knowing what the attorney's process looks like will help you determine whether the level of service they will provide is consistent with your expectations, know how long the process will take, and understand what to expect along the way.

3. What information will you need from me?

Estate planning relies heavily on you providing complete and accurate information. The failure to disclose certain information, such as all of the accounts and property that you own, debts or other obligations, or the existence of family members, can completely derail an entire estate plan. Some attorneys will rely on the information they obtained from you. Other attorneys will want to see supporting documentation, such as copies of deeds, account statements, insurance policies, etc. The attorney must communicate what information will be needed and provide you with adequate time to collect the information.

4. Do other people have to be involved?

Because estate planning is a personal process requiring the disclosure of highly sensitive information, it's good to know who else your attorney wants to involve. Some people are very uncomfortable discussing their private affairs with others and want to limit the disclosure of this information to as few people as possible. If you're married, your spouse must be involved in the process. Because many laws require disclosing certain information to one's spouse, there's really no way around this.

Beyond your spouse, a few other people have to be involved. You may have trusted advisors, such as a financial planner, a certified public accountant (CPA), or an insurance agent, who have information that can help in the estate planning process and whom you may want to involve in the process to ensure that it goes smoothly. For example, a successful estate plan requires properly coordinating the legal documents prepared by your estate planning attorney, beneficiary designations on your accounts (such as retirement accounts), and insurance policies. Your attorney can work with your financial and insurance advisors to ensure that your beneficiary designations are correct and make any necessary updates.

Your CPA can also be invaluable in helping you understand the interplay of income, estate, and gift taxes and working with your attorney to ensure that your tax savings are maximized to the fullest extent possible. Although these advisors can play an important role, your attorney may be able to limit the amount of information that they share if there are specific details about your estate plan that you do not want to be divulged to your advisors.

Children do not need to be involved and, in some instances, should not be involved. Although it can be helpful to give adult children an overview of your estate plan and how it will work after it's completed, it is not necessary to involve your children in the decision-making process. And if your adult children have strong opinions or siblings don't all get along, then your children shouldn't be involved in the process. This will only be an invitation to challenge your estate plan on the grounds of undue influence later on.

Asking these questions of your potential estate planning attorney will help you get to know the attorney and better understand their process, the level of service they will provide, and their professional experience. The answers to these questions can help you determine whether the attorney is a good fit for you and your needs. If you are interested in moving forward with your estate plan, please give us a call and let us answer these questions for you. Call Santaella Legal Group, serving all of California, at (925) 831-4840.

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Important Questions Your Estate Planning Attorney Will Ask You

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