Preparing for your Initial Estate Planning Meeting

Preparing for your Initial Estate Planning Meeting

By: Martin M. Shenkman, CPA, MBA, JD

How do you prepare for your first meeting with an estate planner? Remember the Boy Scout motto, "Be Prepared". Advance leg work will save you money, make the meeting more productive, get you real advice instead of theoretical discussions, but most importantly, get you on the path to achieving YOUR goals.


  • Balance sheet - you need a summary of all assets and liabilities. This is a "mile high" view, not the detail your financial planner needs. Key - identify who owns which assets (you, you and your spouse jointly, you and your spouse tenants in common, you and a partner, you in trust for your niece, etc.). This is vital to determine what assets pass under your will.
  • What is your total net worth. This is key to determining if you need estate tax planning, insurance, etc.
  • Copy key asset and liability documents, e.g., deeds.
  • Copy all beneficiary designations, e.g. your IRA.


  • List "family" members:
    • Name.
    • Family Relationship, e.g. son-in-law.
    • Status of that relationship, e.g., haven't talked to that bum son-in-law since the wedding. You need to list people who are close relatives even if you don't want them involved, perhaps especially so.
    • Age.
    • Marital status.
    • Social Security Number.
    • "Family" can mean more than those related by blood, you should include on your list the key people in your life.


  • Goals - what are your goals. Don't just dismiss this as you want to save taxes. No one wants to pay more tax then they have to. But what to YOU REALLY want?
    • Who should inherit your assets.
    • What worries do you have about your heirs.
    • What retirement plans do you have.
    • What financial worries do you have.
    • What goals do you have.
    • It is NOT acceptable to say that you want a specific technique, "I want a living trust". That is not a goal. If you start with techniques or "answers" instead of goals, you'll never get what you need or want!
    • Do you have other family members, an aunt, nephew, etc. you help out financially? What happens if you die?
    • Do you have specific burial or funeral instructions?
    • Religious beliefs?
    • Specific lifestyle you want to encourage in your heirs?
    • Favorite charity?

There are no rules or limits. What is important to you and what YOUR goals are, is what should be identified. If you make the effort to think through these issues and make some notes of key goals, it will give your estate planner a clear idea of how to get the process going. This will be more effective and

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