More than half of Americans are missing vital estate planning documents. If you aren't having your clients answer a comprehensive questionnaire of estate planning questions, then you might be part of the problem.
The best thing you can do for your clients and your firm is to streamline and standardize the process. To do this, you need software that helps you prepare documents, manage workflow, and provide continued training.
Think your process works just fine as it is? Are you asking your clients these ten questions as a part of your estate planning consultation?
1. What Is Your Estate Plan Goal?
Before you get started preparing any plan or documents you need to know what the client's goals are. Some clients are hoping to take care of loved ones with special needs.
Other clients are looking to protect their children's inheritance during and after a divorce. Some clients want to minimize their tax liabilities.
Think of creating your client's estate plan like you are baking a cake. How can you combine the right ingredients if you don't know what kind of cake you want to end up with? What's more, not all client's want the same type of cake.
2. Have You Previously Done Estate Planning?
If a client has previous estate documents in place, you need to start with these documents. You need to make sure that the client has given you all of these documents.
You need to follow the law to ensure that the new documents properly supersede the previous set.
Even if your client doesn't want to make any changes, you still need to review their estate plan to ensure it complies with the latest laws. You also want to check that their plan still accomplishes their goal and is the best plan for their situation.
3. Are There Changes in the Size of Your Estate?
Ask if there are any major changes in the client's estate between the last estate plan creation and now. This could be acquiring or selling a property.
Doing this would drastically change the amount of cash assets the client has. It also changes how the estate will get processed through probate.
Many clients will want to change how their estate gets distributed when their estate value experiences a major change.
4. Are There Change Within Your Family?
If your client has previously done estate planning, they may be meeting with you to update their plan to include or exclude certain family members. Common familial changes include marriage, divorce, birth, and death.
Discuss potential complication or consequences of making the client's requested changes.
5. Do You Have Proper Title for the New Property?
In 2015 title fraud resulted in losses totaling over $5 billion. So before your client starts planning their estate confirm that they hold proper and legal title of all of their real estate. This will save the heirs a lot of headaches later on.
6. Do You Have a Business?
Your client's business will require a complete transition plan after your client passes away. Find out what sort of business structure is in place and discuss the best way to transfer ownership.
The client needs to know who they trust to take over. For an even better safety net, they should pick a few people and put them in order. This way if their spouse is set to take over, but your client and spouse pass away at the same time, there is someone else already set up to take over.
7. Are Your Beneficiary Designations up to Date?
Some assets do not go through the probate process such as your client's 401k or life insurance policy. These accounts have their own beneficiary designations.
Often people will set up their accounts through their employment, but they won't finish the setup process. So they never designate a beneficiary.
Or they could have set up their account and named the beneficiary, but they haven't updated this information in years.
Another problem is that your client may have forgotten about these accounts as they move from one company position to another.
If your clients are unsure of their outstanding accounts you can direct them to the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits.
8. Who Will Fill the Many Roles?
Discuss with your client the different roles that must be filled to carry out their estate plan. You'll want to stress that your client will want to pick someone that they trust to carry out their wishes.
They will need to pick an executor who will distribute their assets in accordance with their will. They should pick someone who has medical power of attorney. This person will be the client's voice in the event they become incapacitated during medical treatment.
Then there is the financial power of attorney. This person will oversee and carry out financial procedures in the event the client is incapacitated.
9. Do You Have Specific Concerns About Heirs?
If the client has any heirs that have special needs or struggle with addiction, then you may want to suggest setting up trust. A trust will ensure that any inheritance is distributed for your intended purpose.
Those with addiction struggle to manage money as the addiction takes priority. So by creating a trust, you can set their inheritance aside for care or rehabilitation.
10. Do You Understand the Process?
One of the biggest complaints clients have about their lawyer is that they didn't communicate well and were expensive. Help your client feel comfortable with the process by confirming that they understand each step.
Walk them through a timeline of the process. Then explain the fees associated with your services.
Prepare Your Estate Planning Questions
Being an attentive and skilled estate attorney means asking your clients the tough questions that they don't want to think about. This is the only way you can ensure they have the estate plan that accomplishes their goal.
Ask your client's these estate planning questions to help paint an accurate picture of your client's needs and goals.
Schedule a demonstration of our estate planning software and optimize your estate plan drafting and workflow management today.