Estate planning is often avoided because clients don't want to address the fact that they might someday need it. It seems scary or sad or overwhelming to think about their affairs when they are not living anymore.
Too many Americans avoid taking care of this important part of their lives. The part that takes care of all their living assets upon their death.
Even for the professionals, it can be tricky and mistakes are possible. Estate planning components often overlap each other. Clients need to know what their wishes are in the event of their death to accurately execute estate planning.
Help them take on this necessary process by considering this estate planning checklist. Remember to consider each of these components of estate planning while working with your clients to best meet their needs.
Estate Planning Basics
Understanding the needs of your client is paramount. What goals and objectives do they have in estate planning?
Use an estate planning checklist to help clients understand and organize their needs. This helps legal professionals to best meet the needs of the clients.
A comprehensive checklist also identifies what estate documents are needed in the estate planning process.
An important first step in estate planning is the identification of assets. What assets does the client have? What assets are hold a title?
Understand how the client wants to handle their assets in the estate. If the asset has a title, the client will need to decide if they want to set up these assets with a co-owner. The asset can then be automatically transferred to a beneficiary upon death.
Beyond the titled assets, all money and assets need to be considered and planned for in the estate.
Get the beneficiaries in order. Many accounts, like a 401k, can have named beneficiaries without a will. Make sure those beneficiaries are named in the accounts so the assets will transfer to the named survivor.
If there is life insurance, identifying the beneficiary and how the assets will be distributed should also be part of the plan.
If a client has minor children, then guardianship designations are a must. In the event of their death, who will retain guardianship of the minor children. All parties involved should have an agreement and a clear plan should be in place for minors.
Last Will and Testament
A will designates what happens with the client's affairs and assets after death. The first step in creating a will is designating an executor. The executor will carry out the wishes outlined in the will.
If property or assets were not already handled with co-ownership then a will identifies who will keep the property.
It should also include the legal language for beneficiaries and guardianship plans. The will can also include plans for final remains.
A will designates how debts after death should be handled and from what assets those debts can be attained.
When should a client consider a will vs a trust? If a client has a large estate, then they should consider a living trust to protect their assets upon their death.
In the will vs trust debate, if a client has a larger or more complicated estate then a living trust might be the best choice. A client can set up a revocable living trust before their death. While a will designates what happens after their death.
While alive the client can be the trustee, then upon their death, they can name a trustee. The trustee will be responsible for carrying out the plans of the trust. In a revocable living trust, the client can make changes at any time to the living will before their death.
The advantages of setting up a living will include:
- Handling distribution of property
- Avoiding probate
- Minimizing estate taxes
- Tax advantages
- Designation of asset distribution
Any assets with separately named beneficiaries will not fall under the living trust organization. Helping your client to organize those assets can prevent the assets from being considered separate from the trust.
Power of Attorney: Financial
A financial power of attorney (POA) is important for your client. They are considered the principal and can designate someone to handle their financial affairs if they are unable to do it themselves.
A principal needs a financial power of attorney for:
- Asset management
- Paying bills
- Decisions making if they become incapacitated
The financial power of attorney forms can be tricky. Many financial institutions have their own POA forms. They might not always accept the general forms intended to cover all financial decisions. The agent (person acting upon the principal's behalf) should carefully check with financial institutions before the power of attorney is actually needed.
A financial power of attorney can be set up to begin upon completion of the forms. Or it can be set up to begin upon a certain event. This is called the springing power of attorney, meaning it springs into effect at a designated point.
Power of Attorney: Healthcare
Like a financial POA, the healthcare power of attorney designates a person to act upon the client's behalf related to issues of healthcare.
A living will or healthcare power of attorney gives someone the client trusts the authority to act upon their behalf for medical decisions.
Advance directives can be part of the power of attorney outlining the client's wishes. Helping the client to select the right person for healthcare POA is highly important.
Whether healthcare should be continued and what course of action should be taken are part of the responsibility of the healthcare power of attorney. They might literally make life and death decisions for them and will need the legal paperwork to carry out the client's wishes.
Final Desires and Designations
This part of the estate plan may not technically be a legal document, but it remains highly important. This will give the executor or trustee (will vs trust designator) important information about the clients' wishes.
It can also give detailed information about how to contact family and friends. This final designation should also include all information about accounts, passwords and how to access the information related to those accounts.
It might also name if the client has particular wishes related to their estate. Who gets their grandmother's china or how a living pet should be cared for upon their death can be part of these designations.
This part of the estate can also outline the client's wishes related to their final remains. The client can spell out how they want their funeral arrangements handled and how they should be paid for.
What is Estate Planning Software for Attorneys?
In 2016, on average 849.3 people out of 100,000 died, with the average age of death 78.6 years. This is a lot of work for law firms.
But lawyers and attorneys are not usually known for being very good businessmen. In fact, lawyers have this reputation for being incredibly pedestrian and unable to move with the times.v
However, contrary-to-popular-belief this is not always the case. Many in this profession are keen to get things done more efficiently and are increasingly embracing new technology to create a better and speedier service for their clients.
So what new software is available for helping clients deal with administrating or claiming the estate and assets of loved ones? Estate planning software is increasingly becoming an important tool or lawyers.
So what is estate planning software and why it is important?
What is Estate Planning Software?
Estate planning software collates all of the relevant legal documents and data from a client's estate. It then collects it into an online programme that is easily manageable and accessible to all who are working on the case.
This is particularly important when you are working on a case involving someone who has died intestate. It is equally useful if you are working on a case involving asset management.
This saves time as busy lawyers don’t always have to access to an original document or a photocopy. Both of these might contain sensitive information. A heavy locked briefcase might also be the only appropriate way to carry them around.
Photocopies could easily go missing and are often on flimsy pieces of paper. And the original documents should really be locked away in a safe in your office when not in use, meaning nobody else can work on them. Both of these are a pain if you are traveling around the country or state working on several different cases at once.
Autofill and Workflow
Estate planning software often includes work-flow or time management software. This automates the entire process and schedules deadlines to help ensure the case proceeds on time as it should.
The software can also include dynamic data captures screens. This can auto-fill in documents with the correct information. It can also save you lots of time.
If you’re using a work-flow management system then there is a tendency that the whole process can become depersonalized. This can be hurtful and disrespectful to your clients and make sifting through the case seem more complex than it is.
Our software includes the ability to enter in the relationships between different people and to attach those documents and forms to a person. This also makes it easy to see the monetary relationship between different individuals on a chart.
Keeping Track of Correspondence
If you’re working on a complex case and other lawyers and other parties are involved then it could be easy for details to get lost in translation.
But estate planning software can help manage this situation by including the ability to see all of your e-mails and documents in one place.
This means you are just working in one system and are not working across an e-mail program, perhaps a cloud-based document sharing system like Google Drive or i-Cloud as well as a word processing program.
You can also quickly see a complete list of people who are involved in the case from the judge to the client and your apprentices or juniors.
Professional Looking Documents
If there is one thing lawyers are not known for its being tidy, organized and presentable. And this is understandable. Lawyers and attorneys often have very little time. On many occasions, documents have been thrown out of court and have to be rewritten or redrafted because they are not quite correct.
Unprofessional documents and bad handwriting can also make the experience feel rushed for clients and make it harder for them to access the information about their case that they need.
Estate planning software offers templates of key documents needed in estate cases that are well presented, tidy and conform to standards. The autofill function can ensure that key data is not missing from the form and it can automatically flag up any inconsistencies that may have arisen.
Type of Client
What software you choose to use also depends on the type of clients you take on and the complexity of the case.
A case involving millions of dollars to rival the fictional Jarndyce Vs Jarndyce case of Charles Dickens’ novel Bleak House is going to require more complicated software than your average case might demand. However, such software can be eye-wateringly expensive and is probably not worth the investment.
Our software is reasonably priced and is available in three different packages, silver, gold, and platinum.
Estate Planning Software Can Save Time But Can’t Solve the Case For You
It’s important to remember that estate planning software is designed for planners. These are the lawyers who revel in saving themselves time. It can streamline the case and make it more efficient but it can’t do the entire case for you.
It is equally important that you keep an eye on what you and your apprentices or more junior lawyers in the firm are inputting into the system.
Ensuring you review every document personally at set intervals, such as every day or every week, is a good way of doing this.
Estate Planning Software Is The Way Forward
Lawyers should be asking what is estate planning software? Because it is a great resource and is another way in which new technology is transforming traditional jobs to make them easier. The legal profession is an age-old occupation that, many would argue, does not move with the times as fast as other industries.
But estate planning software can finally ensure that the days where lawyers could only consult their documents in an over-crowded and cramped office are gone. A client no longer has to struggle for the attention of their attorney either.
Planning software streamlines the process and frees up your time so that you can spend it where it matters: with your client.
To schedule a demonstration of our estate planning software or get in touch with us to see how we could help save you time and money, click here.
Almost three-quarters of Americans think estate planning is confusing. As attorneys, it is our job to help guide clients through the process and hopefully make it less confusing.
Multiple documents and details need to be tracked and taken care of. Doing this manually is time-consuming and you risk making an error.
Using online estate planner tools can streamline the process. It can also help you ensure you create all of the necessary error-free documents.
Keep reading to learn all of the things estate planning software can do for your firm.
Estate Plan Drafting
Drafting all of the documents for a complete estate plan is time-consuming. But what if you forget one or two? Having the right software can ensure that all of the necessary documents get created.
Unsure of what documents you need? How about a scenario builder? Most of your clients are going to fall into a handful of situations.
You can set up these client profiles and then use the template for document creation.
Client Friendly Documents
Clients want documents that they can read and understand. So use software that creates documents that are understandable and relatable.
Some lawyers think that long and drawn out documents are the way to go. They will pack everything they can into them.
This isn't always the best course of action. When you create concise, to the point documents, they become easier to understand. They also stay focused on the client's goal.
When it comes to creating your documents, it looks professional to have them be uniform. Using software ensures that every document you create looks the same.
You can also quickly and easily make global changes to all of your documents. So if you need to update your address or phone number, it's just a few clicks instead of hours of work.
The goal is to grow your practice, but the bigger it grows, the busier you become. This also increases the risk of having a case slip through the cracks.
By automating your system, you effectively reduce this risk. You'll have happy clients who will be more likely to recommend your services.
Remember, one of the biggest complaints clients have about all attorneys is their lack of communication. Automating your workflow means you can also automate some of your communication and make time for more client communication.
Look for a software system that takes you all the way through the client relationship:
- Online intake questionnaires
- Detailed Interviews
- Drafting the estate documents
- Executing finished documents
When you use one system from start to finish, you can have one reference point. That way, you know where to look to find out what phase of the process a client is in at any time.
It's a catch 22. You can either answer the phone and get new business, or you can not answer and work on your current client's needs. Both are time-consuming and necessary for a successful practice.
A solution to this is integrating online scheduling from your software. This allows potential clients to schedule a meeting with you without having to speak with you directly.
Instead of trying to take notes while meeting with your clients, have them fill out an online questionnaire. That way, you can focus on the conversation at hand.
It also reduces your data entry time. The client's responses are automatically integrated into your system.
Quality software systems will allow you to customize your questionnaires. That way, they are branded for your firm, giving you a professional look.
The drafting process in your software should be streamlined while maintaining a high level of accuracy. Look for software that can produce professional and legible documents.
It seems like the easy part of the process. All you need to do is have your client properly execute their estate documents.
Except life is never that simple. Make sure you use a system that can allow for execution through the system while still ensuring that all statutory requirements are fulfilled.
It can seem like there is a large canyon between deciding you want to start using estate planning software and actually using the software. Look for a software option that offers training and mentoring.
This can give you guidance to help you grow your practice. Beyond Counsel estate planning software have over 1,200 hours of CLE courses. They offer a wide range of education topics including client intake and document execution.
Effective Client Interviews
Before you can efficiently create documents with your software, you need to have thorough and in-depth client interviews. The only way you can do this is by asking the right questions in the right way.
You can't approach every client interview in the same way. You need to tailor your questions to fit the end goal. Make sure you know how to interview your client for specific distributions, residuary, age requirements, fiduciaries, and miscellaneous provisions.
If you are a new small firm or the only estate planning attorney in your firm, then it can be tough to find guidance for your particular area of law. So some online estate planning software offers extra weekly support.
This gives you an opportunity to network with other estate attorneys and discuss legal topics. You have the option of merely "tuning in" or becoming an active participant.
Start Using Online Estate Planner Tools
By using online estate planner tools, you can improve your practice's workflow and overall work product quality. You can ensure that the right documents get created, so your clients have everything they need for complete protection of their estate.
You should also take advantage of continuing education and support. The more you learn, the better you can manage your practice. The more accomplished you become, the better you can serve your clients and the happier they will be.
Schedule an online demonstration today and start using online estate planning software in your practice.