What is Life and Estate Planning?
Many people are not quite sure what Life and Estate Planning is
and what the significance of it would be for them. Life and
Estate Planning is planning NOT just for how your assets are to
be distributed after your death, but a comprehensive highly
personal plan to manage your health, family and financial
decisions should you ever become disabled, and then also upon
your death. We work to create an estate plan that will assist our
clients with maintaining control of their property while alive, taking
care of the client and the client's loved ones if the client becomes disabled, and then passing the client's various assets to his/her chosen beneficiaries in the manner the client wants, including when and how.
It is important to note that while estate planning ultimately comes down to memorializing a client's wishes in writing through detailed legal documents, estate planning is as much about appropriate professional counseling that provides valuable insight and information so the client can:
1. make informed decisions
2. understand why and how the decisions will work in the plan
3. ultimately sign documents that will actually work for the client's particular circumstances in the manner the client intends.
Who needs Life and Estate Planning?
A common misconception surrounding Estate Planning is that you must or should be elderly and/or wealthy to create a Life and Estate plan. If you have children, elderly parents, savings, or property, you should have a plan in place. Creating a Life and Estate Plan allows you to control how your assets will be managed and how your loved ones will be taken care of in the present and in the future. Life and Estate plans are not only in contemplation of death, but also in case of disability, whether temporary or permanent. For example, should you become disabled, a plan can name guardians for children or elderly parents so that their care is seamless and does not require court involvement. Trust plans can be created in order to provide for loved ones in a manner and at a time when it is most beneficial for them.
Creating a Life and Estate Plan gives you peace of mind that your affairs will be in order should you be unable to manage them and allows you to ensure the standard of care and happiness that you desire for your loved ones.
How Does the Estate Planning Process Work?
After a client makes an appointment with this office, we send a detailed Confidential Data Form to the potential client for review and completion as best as possible and we request the client return the completed Form to the office prior to the initial consultation. The Form helps the client prepare for the meeting, often considering matters which he/she may have never realized might impact an estate plan, and also helps the attorneys at our office best prepare for counseling the client. In having this Form completed prior to the initial consultation, the attorney can spend more time actually focusing on discussion of the client's planning goals and objectives, rather than on basic data gathering. Review of the Form also alerts the attorney to any matters which might require further thought and consideration. The initial consultation involves exploration into the client's hopes, fears, dreams and aspirations for their plan. In most instances, after this initial consultation we are able to recommend a Life and Estate Plan for the client and can often quote a fee for legal services for further counseling, drafting and implementing the plan. Once the client commits to the plan and a fee has been agreed upon, the normal processing time would be three to four weeks from initial consultation to completion and signing of the documents. If the plan entails trust planning (which requires funding or re-titling of assets to a trust), that process can take a longer period of time, depending on the particular circumstances of the client.
How long does it take to put together a Life and Estate Plan?
Most often, we will meet with clients initially our office, at some length, to determine their estate planning priorities and objectives, all without obligation. This initial consultation can be two to three hours in length and enables us to determine what the client's hopes, fears, dreams and aspirations are for their plan. In most instances, after this initial consultation we are able to recommend a Life and Estate Plan for the client and can often quote a fee for legal services in drafting and implementing the plan. Once the client commits to the plan and a fee has been agreed upon, normal processing time would be three to four weeks from initial consultation to completion of the documents and the execution of same. If the plan entails trust planning (which requires funding or re-titling of assets to a trust), that process can take a longer period of time, depending on the particular circumstances of the client. The preparation of the documents and the execution of same is only the first step in a meaningful Life and Estate Plan for clients who should continually update their plan by reviewing their personal circumstances and priorities. However, substantial completion of the basics of the plan can certainly be in place within a month with follow-up and updating a continuing lifetime process to keep up with the client's needs, priorities and changing circumstances.
How much does a Life and Estate Plan cost?
There is no one set fee for a Life and Estate Plan for a client because there are so many variables that go into the planning process. EACH CLIENT IS UNIQUE. After the initial consultation, we can nearly always quote a fee for services to be rendered, depending on the choices the client has made and depending on the nature and complexity of the work . Occasionally, a client's estate is sufficiently large and complex that planning is best done in stages. Basic planning and then more sophisticated planning may be required to minimize or eliminate certain special concerns such as large estate taxation. In our opinion, it is inappropriate for an attorney to provide a flat fee for a plan before a consultation with a client to determine what is appropriate and necessary. The fee is based on guiding the client, making recommendations to the client regarding the planning, and preparing and executing the plan as it is customized and tailored to the special needs and concerns of the client. Suffice it to say, no charge is made to any client until it is agreed upon by the client nor is any work performed (other than the consultation without obligation) until an agreement is made. The client must be very certain that he or she sees the value in the planning to be done and agrees to the fee arrangements proposed. Occasionally, in special circumstances, it is possible that an hourly fee may be charged, although most often the planning process is done on a flat fee basis. There are no additional charges for telephone conferences and out of pocket expenses except as agreed to by the client. There are some circumstances and some situations such as special real estate issues, corporate formation and related issues to the plan that may best be handled on an hourly basis.
When should I review my Estate Plan (Will/Trust/etc.)?
Once an Estate Plan is drawn and put in place, it should not be forgotten. Lawyers attempt to provide all foreseeable contingencies, but circumstances and laws change in ways that cannot be anticipated. You might leave your car to someone in your estate plan and then sell the car. There would be no car for the beneficiary to receive. You might leave your property to your “spouse”, and then get divorced and remarried. Just which “spouse” would you want to receive your property? Of course, it wouldn’t make sense to go running to your lawyer’s office every few weeks, however regular reviews are a good idea. Just the passage of time can change a good estate plan into an out-of-date plan. Review is also a good idea when certain events take place. Here is a checklist of events (by no means exhaustive) that may make an estate plan review advisable. The checklist is by no means comprehensive for many other events can also change the effectiveness of an estate plan. For instance:
You or your spouse inherits, earns or accumulates significant money. With large sums, astute investing and planning can be veryimportant.
You learn that tax laws have changes.
You are about to take out (more) life insurance.
Your pension or profit-sharing plan(s) grow or “vest”.
You start a new job or retire.
Your beneficiaries change.
You get married or divorced.
The needs of your beneficiaries or family change.
Whenever the time comes to make changes, please check with a professional.
What happens if I do no Life and Estate Planning at all?
To accept the "default" plan of the State, in the event of a lifetime incapacity or disability, family members and/or friends will probably proceed to the Probate Court to determine who among them will run your financial affairs with the direction of the Probate Court and the Judge of Probate. Thus, it may be necessary for the court to appoint a Guardian or a Conservator for you and your assets during your lifetime, or to make health decisions and/or financial decisions. The person or persons named by the court may not be one(s) whom you would choose. Upon your demise, the Probate Court would most probably be involved in a death probate proceeding for assets which are in your name. If you have specific contract rights regarding life insurance, annuities, retirement plans and the like, those assets will be distributed outright in accordance with beneficiary designation or the "box" you have checked with the contract administrator without much direction whatsoever. Additionally, if true "joint property" is involved, presumably the surviving tenant will take sole possession of the property to do with as he/she wishes. Then some person(s) may have to prepare and file Estate Tax Returns and Income Tax Returns for you, and a number of death administration issues may have to be undertaken, probably with the on-going supervision of the Probate Court, being a public proceeding and always under the control of the Probate Judge. This could prove to be fairly slow, time-consuming and expensive. The "default" plan in which your assets are maintained during your lifetime or distributed after your demise might be totally different from what you would otherwise have wished had you become proactive and taken advantage of your planning opportunities.