By: Martin M. Shenkman, CPA, MBA, JD
Cost: Find out upfront if there is a fee. Fees aren’t bad, not knowing the deal is bad. Many estate planners will conduct a free initial consult. Many more bill for their time. If you’re not paying don’t expect any specific advice, more of a general discussion about your situation and the process. If you are paying, be sure to ask specific questions and get specific answers.
3 Things Your Planner Should Do: Your planner needs to have family data (family tree), a balance sheet, and understanding of your personal goals. There are a myriad of ways to collect and organize this information, and every planner has their own forms and approach. The more succinctly and accurately you communicate this information the quicker the meeting can get down to brass tacks.
Planning Comes First: Once your planner understands your situation they should discuss planning options with you and help you formulate the outlines of a general plan. The plan has to precede the documents or details (otherwise what documents would make sense?). You should be certain that you understand the broad outlines and concepts involved, details can be addressed later.
Documentation: Every plan involves documents: powers of attorney, living wills, health proxies, wills, insurance trusts, revocable trusts and more. Understand what documents are recommended to achieve your goals and complete your plan and in very broad terms what each entails. Details come later.
Other Steps: Documents and a plan won’t get you to the finish line. What else do you need: property and casualty insurance review, investment plan, life insurance, investment products that dovetail with the planning, beneficiary designations for these assets, a review of the ownership (title) to your assets and how they may have to change. This is vital to the success of the process.
Coordination: Whose on first? Who should be responsible to do what, when and in what order? What roles should your insurance consultant, financial planner and accountant play in the process? Estate planning requires an orchestra that is coordinated, not a lone musician.
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