Your First Consultation
Compliments of the Slaton Schauer Law Firm, PLLC
Written By: The American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys
Edited By: Andrew T. Slaton-Freeman
You have finally chosen to get your affairs in order. Congratulations! Making the decision is the first step in the process, and it’s an important one. You’ve committed. You’ve found a competent attorney, booked an appointment, and sent some emails back and forth with their office. It’s an important time, but you’re not quite sure what to expect from– or bring to– your first meeting with an estate planning attorney. Don’t worry! We’re here to help.
Your meeting probably won’t be as overwhelming as you’re anticipating; remember, your attorneys are human beings as well, and we’re happy to guide you. We understand if you need a little help. That said, there are a few simple things you can do on your own prior to your first consultation that can simplify the process:
II. Finding Your Advocate
What if you haven’t committed to getting your affairs in order? Are still trying to find an attorney who is right for you? Maybe you’re not sure where to start in terms of finding an estate planning advocate. It can seem like a shot in the dark, but let’s consider some factors which may help you in finding proper representation.
First, what is your potential attorney’s reputation in their community? Many independent attorneys and small firms, like other small businesses, live off their “word of mouth” reputation. While asking neighbors, family, and friends for recommendations is always a great place to start, don’t underestimate your own research efforts! If you already have a positive relationship with an attorney, you might ask who they recommend for estate planning services.
Another indicator for you to consider is an attorney’s professional associations and organizational memberships. One example is involvement with the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys (AAEPA), though there are many professional organizations that cater to attorneys in various fields. We know the saying “birds of a feather flock together.” These organizations can help to inform your search.
III. What To Expect
A decent attorney is going to be interested in you, your family, and the general situation around your case. Is your attorney curious about you as a person? Did they ask questions in order to learn more about you and your situation? Your lawyer should ask you some questions to get to know you a bit and “frame” your goals: what do you want and expect from your career, your family, and your retirement? Where do you see yourself in ten years? Where would you like to be at, both financially and personally, when you retire? During your first consultation you’ll likely discuss how many children or grandchildren you have, how many marriages you’ve had, and other similar details. You’ll talk about your assets, savings, any property you own, and your retirement plans. It may be helpful to bring a written list of your assets, as well as any questions you want to ask. Be sure to discuss any loved ones who may have special needs or other issues that are important for your attorney to know. A competent estate planning attorney can go over your options to ensure these people are properly protected and served by your estate even after you’re gone.
Remember, it defeats the purpose of a consultation to withhold information from your attorney. After all, how can your attorney take your circumstances into account if you aren’t open with them? Your estate planning attorney is your biggest ally and they’re working for you… but they’re relying on the information you provide to create a customized estate plan that accomplishes your goals. It’s important to remember that your attorney has a duty of confidentiality when it comes to your personal information. You should feel safe with them!
IV. After The Meeting
Once you’ve discussed everything of importance and left the meeting, your attorney will enter copious notes into their internal systems. Then your attorney and their staff will draft the documents needed to complete your estate plan. Once those documents are completed, your attorney’s office will review them for accuracy and contact you with any questions or corrections they may have, or for any documents they may need from you. Finally, once any revisions are made, they will coordinate a time to finalize and sign the documents that make up your estate plan.
Remember, you can ask questions! If you still have questions, ask them again! Your attorney’s goal is simple: to ensure that you, your estate, and your loved ones are protected to the best of your attorney’s ability. You share the same goal. After you leave their office, you should have a reasonable understanding of everything you just discussed, the pros and cons of any decisions you need to make, and a sense of satisfaction in knowing you’ve just partnered with a legal professional who is on your side and looking out for your best interests. Like any relationship, communication is key for a positive legal experience.