How Do I Work With An Estate Planning Lawyer?

Embarking on an estate plan can be daunting. But it doesn’t need to be.

An estate planning lawyer has, hopefully, seen cases similar to yours, and has worked on estate plans comparable to the one you are proposing to build.

It is wise to ask the lawyer who focuses on estate planning if she or he has relevant experience — on a similar type of estate plan.

Aside from that question, here are four topics you want to consider before working with an estate planning lawyer.

#1. What type of taxes will you have to pay?

Estate taxes are usually a necessary part of life. However, estate taxes are also a moving target. States are changing their laws regarding estates, and much of the tax burden you or your decedents will have to deal with come in the form of these state taxes.

What are the laws governing your residence? What is changing with regards to the tax codes of your jurisdiction?

If there are ways to avoid having your estate pay these taxes, your estate planning lawyer will be able to advise you of these methods. If these taxes are unavoidable but can be lessened, you will be able to learn that as well.

The estate tax — re-branded as “the death tax” by some politicians — is a source of considerable controversy and debate in recent years. In The Atlantic, Derek Thompson wrote about “The Very Bad Arguments for Killing the Estate Tax” in late 2017. These taxes, which contribute approximately $20 billion to federal revenues each year, are ones which wealthy families often go to great lengths to avoid paying. Estate planning attorneys make such avoidances possible. However, Ohio no longer has a state estate tax.

#2. Which documents will be included, and what is the cost?

Each estate plan is different. And each plan has its own set of documents. Before embarking on the work of drafting and enacting this proposed estate plan, find out exactly what documents your estate planning attorney proposes to create. Keeping tabs on the specific documents will prevent “mission creep” — the state in which the mission expands over time, and more work and more billable hours are added onto the project beyond your initial expectations.

#3. What documents should you gather before your first meeting?

In the entertainment world, professionals refer to this phase as “pre-production.” Before you start spending money and having people bill for their time — that would be “production” — you invest in pre-production time on your own. You find a full list of the paperwork you will need, and then you gather and organize that paperwork.

Build spreadsheets on your own, get your account numbers together, and assemble a comprehensive list of assets.

Enter into your first meeting with your estate planning attorney feeling prepared. Know your situation. Know what your estate will consist of, and who your beneficiaries will be. Here’s a handy estate planning worksheet .pdf to help!

#4. What complications may arise with this particular estate?

If you have a family business — or part of a family business — then your estate planning will be more complicated. If any of your assets are tied up with other owners and stakeholders, that adds complexity (for example, a house that you co-own with a former spouse).

Foreseeing any potential complications will save your estate planning attorney time. And whatever saves her (or him) time will save you money.