There are a number of questions that need to be answered when drafting a will and because estate planning varies greatly from person to person, it would be nearly impossible to prepare for every question an estate planning lawyer will ask. Most estate planning lawyers will provide you with paperwork to fill out prior to any consultations.
Who Are the Important People in Your Life?
This is probably the most important question an estate planning attorney will ask you. Family set up greatly affects the estate planning process. In fact, some states have laws that won’t let a person write certain relatives out of a will. Are you married? Most states protect spouses from being written out of a will. Absent a spouse, the rest of your estate is generally fair game. Do you have someone that you wish to leave out of your will? An estate will be distributed either according to the will or, in the absence of a will, by law. To plan for your estate, a lawyer needs to know about those people in your family tree because, even if you want to leave someone out, if there’s a missing piece within your will, rules of state law will take over to fill in the gap.
Children aren’t typically financially protected as spouses are, but you still need to be specific. How many children do you have? What are their ages? Do you have step children that you want to be treated, with respect to estate distribution, like your biological children? Who will take care of your children in the event something happens to both parents?
This question doesn’t have to be restricted to family members either, as many wish to leave part of their estate to those that aren’t related by blood.
What Do Your Finances Look Like?
Putting together a list of your finances will help your estate planning attorney make the best decisions for your financial future. Since most states have estate and gift tax laws for assets that exceeds certain amounts, you’ll need to make your attorney aware of every asset and liability to your name. Are your banking accounts joint accounts with your spouse? What goes into an estate is entirely dependent on the owner of the property.
Do you own your home or is it mortgaged? If you plan to leave your home to your children, whether or not its owned or mortgaged through a bank makes a difference. Do you have credit card debt? What about medical expenses? Do you owe the IRS? Paying off medical expenses and any federal or state tax debts will always take precedence over (minus very few spousal exceptions) personal bequethments.Same rules apply for other debts.
What Do You Want to Give Away?
Once you take out any spousal shares and pay off liabilities of the estate, it’s time to talk personal bequeathments. Do you want to leave a sum of money to your favorite niece? Do you want to set up a trust fund for your children? How about those heirloom pearls your mother gave you?
What’s Your Retirement Planning Look Like?
Retirement funds will go to a listed beneficiary and will not flow into a decedent’s estate. Rules regarding distribution of retirement funds falls under contract law, rather than estate law. If for some reason there is no listed beneficiary, then retirement funds would flow into an estate and be probated according to the terms of the will.
Do You Have Life Insurance?
Life insurance also falls under contract law as well, which means it will be distributed according to the life insurance policy. You can, however, list a trust as a beneficiary on a life insurance policy and the terms of a trust can be contained within a will.
Have You Gone Through a Divorce?
Believe it or not, this question matters. Depending on the terms of a divorce settlement agreement, your estate planning attorney will need to know if your ex-spouse has any claims to child support, alimony, retirement accounts, or life insurance proceeds.
All the Questions No One Wants to Answer
Unfortunately, estate planning means answering tough questions. Are you aware of any life-threatening illnesses? What are your wishes for after you’ve passed? If you have any specific wishes or religious requests, these are things your estate planning attorney will want to know.
Where Can You Find the Right Lawyer?
Planning out your will may seem like a tedious process, but an experienced estate lawyer can help you navigate through the ins and outs of planning for your future.