Here’s what you can expect if you work with me on an estate plan:
Before we meet
Before you come in to meet with me, I ask you to complete my estate planning client worksheet. The worksheet is a web-based form that takes around 15 minutes to complete, no pen and paper necessary (though if you prefer to complete that way, I’m happy to send you a PDF version of the worksheet).
Your answers on the worksheet need not be super-detailed or final, but they serve a few important purposes. First, they give us a helpful starting point for our discussion so that when we sit down to visit I’ve already got at least a general idea of your family situation, nature and size of estate, and wishes and concerns. Second, it’s my experience that when clients have taken the time to fill out the worksheet they come into the meeting better prepared as well and for couples, they may have begun discussions between themselves as to some issues. As a result, I find that the planning meeting is far more productive when clients have completed the worksheet in advance. I know your time is valuable and you want to get the most value for your dollar, and this helps maximize the value of our time together.
Flat fee/hourly fee
For clients who do complete a worksheet in advance I offer a flat fee estate plan option including your will, declaration of guardian for children (if applicable), financial and medical powers of attorney, advance directive to physicians, HIPAA authorization and, if requested, declaration of guardian for self and appointment for disposition of remains. For couples, I offer a discounted rate such that the second plan in the package is half price. Clients who do not complete a worksheet before our meeting pay hourly for my time, as there is generally more follow-up required after the first meeting.
While the flat fee plan documents provide a comprehensive plan for most clients, occasionally a client will require additional documents such as a trust agreement, deeds, etc. Such documents may be available on a flat fee or hourly rate, depending on circumstances.
The heart of the estate planning process is our planning meeting. This meeting typically lasts 60-90 minutes and is when we work to flesh out the wishes you set forth in the worksheet.
At this meeting we’ll go through each document included within the estate plan to discuss what that document does and walk through some what-if scenarios to ensure your plan addresses contingencies that may arise. You may end up changing your answers from the worksheet based on our discussion, and that’s fine. By the end of this meeting you should have a clear understanding of what each estate planning document does and I should have a good understanding of your wishes for each document.
Clients often ask if they need to bring anything with them. If you have any existing estate plan documents you may bring those for review; often, our new documents will be revoking the old ones but in some cases they may coexist and need to work together. Also, if you have any assets such as retirement accounts with beneficiary designations you may bring information on these accounts. Finally, if your ability to dispose of your estate is limited due to a divorce decree or previously executed contractual joint wills, please bring these documents so I may review and advise accordingly.
I’m sometimes asked when I’m doing estate plans for a couple whether both members need to come to this meeting or if only one can speak for both. In my experience, when just one partner comes, the absent partner generally has many questions later necessitating more follow-up. Accordingly, I reserve the discounted flat fee for couples in which both partners attend the meeting. I understand that sometimes it’s not possible for both partners to attend and am willing to follow up with the second partner separately but my fees will reflect the additional time required.
Also, since both partners are my clients, while the first partner may attend the meeting and discuss wishes and concerns, I must confirm those wishes with the second partner to ensure the documents I prepare accurately reflect that partner’s wishes as well.
Within 1-2 days of our meeting, I’ll email you a recap of what we discussed and a bullet-point summary of what I understand your wishes to be, noting any information I need from you in order to prepare the documents. Once you reply back and provide any required details, I’ll prepare your draft documents.
After I’ve prepared drafts of your documents I’ll upload them to Clio, my secure client portal, and send you a link so you can review and let me know of any questions or desired revisions. Once we’ve done any necessary revisions and the documents are in final form, it’s time to schedule our signing meeting.
This meeting will generally run 30-60 minutes. We’ll go through each document and you’ll sign and initial where indicated. As we go through each document I’ll again highlight relevant portions so you can confirm again that they reflect your wishes.
Once you’ve autographed every document, I’ll scan them and return the originals to you to take. I’ll keep a PDF copy for my records and upload PDF copies for you as well. I’ll also give you the “now what” letter suggesting storage places for your docs, language for beneficiary designations, and suggestions of other items to include in your estate plan folder to assist your agents in carrying out your wishes. That’s it. You’ve completed your estate plan!
I recommend that we work to complete the process, from planning meeting to document signing, in a month or less. I find that the shorter timeframe makes it easier for clients to review their documents while our discussion is still top of mind and likewise, I can easily respond to client questions without having to first go through my notes to remember details of your case. In my experience a longer timeframe usually makes for a harder process all around, while clients who have wrapped it up fairly quickly often comment that it all seemed a lot easier than they expected.
To facilitate a quick process, I prepare the meeting recap as soon as possible and almost always within 2 days of our meeting, and upon receiving the client response to the recap I prepare drafts within 2-3 days. Likewise, I respond to any follow-up emails or revision requests as quickly as possible. Whenever the ball is in my court in the process I think of it as a hot potato I want to get back to you as soon as possible. I know a quick process makes it easier for you and will do my part to make that happen.
I don’t expect clients to respond within the same short timeframe (I’m the one who’s getting paid to do this, so I should be the one moving quickly, right?) but do strongly encourage clients to review and respond at their earliest convenience while our planning meeting discussion is still fresh of mind.