The lawyer’s role in estate planning is to ascertain the desires of the people that they are assisting, the goals of the people and to put together a confident estate plan that accomplishes all their goals and meets all of their objectives. The lawyer gets their planning set up the way they want it; gets it in compliance with the laws of their state of residence; does the best possible job to stay out of the court system; structure it to avoid conflicts in the future and limits as much as possible any taxes or costs that are going to be incurred for the creators of the estate plan.
How Long Does a Process Typically Take?
My clients always ask how long estate planning takes and my joke is I usually say that it takes 20 years and 20 minutes. It takes 20 years to getting around to do it and showing up in the lawyer’s office to get the estate plan done. Then it takes about 20 minutes at your kitchen table with your spouse or by yourself to just answer a series of questions that I give you in a form of a questionnaire.
In terms of how long does it take from start to finish, I have had told many of people that I have turned estate plans around in 24 or 48 hours for seriously ill individuals. For the most part, when clients come to me, we have three meetings. The first meeting is I get them up to speed on the probate system and the estate planning process and what are the things that they need to be deciding on. Then they usually come back in a couple of weeks and we do the planning meeting where we talk about who gets what assets, when do they get them, how do they receive them, how old do you want the heirs to be before they get their money outright, who the trustees are, what do they want as far as their powers of attorney and medical directives; and of course discuss burial and cremation issues. We talk about who they want to be the persons that control the money, that make medical decisions and financial decisions for them, and who they want to be the guardians for their children.
Once that planning meeting is over, I then draft the documents and send them to the client. If the client is happy, then they come in for the third meeting where they sign, witness and notarize all of the documents. At that point in time, then the only thing that the people have to do is fund their trust properly. Trust funding means changing the name on their bank and investment accounts to the trust and fixing the beneficiary designations on their life insurance and 401(k) accounts according to however we structure the estate plan.
In a normal typical situation, it’s usually 4 to 6 weeks from the first time that we meet until completion However, for people that are in a rush because they are terminally ill or are traveling, that process can be sped up as is warranted by the circumstances that I am dealing with at that time.
What Do I Need to Bring When I Meet with An Estate Planning Attorney?
For the first meeting, generally I do not need the clients to bring anything to me because the first meeting really is educational. Most people do not really have any idea what documents are involved or how this system works or what they really need to do in order to put together a solid and comprehensive estate plan. As such, the first meeting is really getting the client up to speed so that they know what they are going to do and how they are going to do it. So at that first meeting they really do not have to bring anything.
For the second meeting, generally what I want is the questionnaire filled out that I provide to the client and I also want to see the deeds to the real estate and a property tax bill so that I can verify the ownership and be sure of what the real estate tax ID number for the piece of real estate is.
Sometimes I want the people to bring in copies of their investment account statements and bank account statements so that I can have the correct information to put together the trust documents. That is really it in terms of what I need the clients to do other than just come in here and share their ideas on what they want to accomplish, how they want to do it, who they want to perform the various job duties, and how they feel about life support, organ donations, and burial or cremation instructions.
Basically, it is just having them share their goals and objectives with me and putting together the estate plan the way that they want it.
What Sort of Witnesses are Utilized or Needed for an Estate Planning Case?
In California, the trust, the power of attorney and the certificate of trust are all notarized documents. The last will and testament and the advanced healthcare directives are documents that are witnessed, so you need two witnesses to witness each of those documents. As to the witnesses, they have to have two disinterested witnesses that means somebody that is not related to them, somebody that is not named as an executor or any other job title in any of the documents and somebody that is not receiving any assets in the estate plan. It has to be somebody that is completely apart and outside of what is going on with the will or the medical directive.
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