Before Your Estate Planning Appointment

It's helpful to prepare for your estate planning appointment by thinking about your wishes for your estate plan, and by gathering information and documents. If you're not sure what you want, or you don't have all the information and documents, the attorney can help you work through the decisions and help with gathering the documents.

PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVES

One of the important decisions you will need to make is who will distribute your estate when you're gone. Some of the tasks that your executor (for a will) or trustee (for a trust) may have to do are:

  • Distribute personal property (and/or sell it, or give it away)
  • Sell real estate
  • Manage the estate finances
  • Keep records and account for money received and spent
  • Work with a realtor, attorney, and/or accountant
  • Distribute the real property and/or money in the estate

Try to pick the person or persons in your family or friend circle that can do a good job with those tasks, that are trustworthy, and that can communicate well with the beneficiaries. The representative you pick can also be a beneficiary. Thinking carefully about who will be your representative, and ideally having a discussion with them about your goals and wishes, can reduce conflict and confusion after you're gone.

There are also other roles for which you may want to appoint or nominate someone. The roles can be filled all by the same person or persons or by different people. You may also want to nominate alternates. Some of the roles are:

  • Attorney in fact (has power of attorney to manage your finances if you're incapacitated)
  • Agent for medical decisions
  • Trustee, Custodian, or Guardian of the Estate, to manage the finances of young children until the age you specify for distribution
  • Guardian of the Person to physically care for your minor children

PROPERTY DISTRIBUTION

You'll also want to think about who you want to receive your property when you're gone, including alternates in case your beneficiary(ies) die before you. You can give specific items or amounts of money to named beneficiaries, give percentages of your estate to named beneficiaries, or some combination of those choices. You may also have favorite charities that you want to receive part of your estate.

If you have minor children, their money will need to be managed for them until they are at least over 18, or at the age you specify for distribution. You can leave the decision about how the money will be used while they are minors to the discretion of a custodian, or you can be more specific about how it will to be managed by leaving it to a trustee of a child's trust.

DOCUMENTS

If you want the estate planning attorney to prepare a living trust, the attorney will need a copy of the title deed(s) to your real property that passed title from the prior owner to you (not the deeds that involve the mortgage company). Other useful documents are a list of your accounts with account numbers, and a list of your proposed personal representatives and beneficiaries, with the correct spelling of their names, and their addresses.

USEFUL ESTATE PLANNING VOCABULARY

Settlor (also called Trustor or Grantor): A person who puts his or her property into a trust

Trustee: A person who manages a trust

Executor: A person who distributes the property that passes by will, under the supervision of the probate court

Intestate: When a person died without a will (A testator is a person that writes a will)

Probate: The court process for approving a will, settling any disputes about a will or intestate distribution, and overseeing sales of property, payment of creditors, accountings, and distribution of the estate assets.

Personal Guardian, or Guardian of the Person: Physically takes care of a minor child in place of the parents

Guardian of the Estate: Manages the money for a minor child if other provisions haven't been made, such as custodianship or a child's trust

Custodian: Manages the money for a child (to age 21 or 25, depending on the state), using their discretion

Trustee of a Child's Trust: Manages the money for a child based on the terms of the trust

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