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Creating an estate plan is a partnership between you and your estate planning attorney. Like a good architect designing a bridge, your estate planning attorney will design the structure but you decide its ultimate purpose and usefulness. Determining the answer to these three critical questions form the foundation on which the attorney will design your estate plan.

What do you own? 

For most people this list is pretty simple – their house and a few bank accounts, and hopefully a well-funded retirement plan.  Add a life insurance plan or two, investment accounts for fun.  Make it more interesting with rental properties or your business.  What your assets are, and how they are titled will determine what needs to be done to save the most in estate taxes and maximize the benefit to you and your heirs.

Where should your estate go? 

No one knows your family like you do.  Your estate planning attorney should be interested in each of your beneficiaries.  How well do they handle money?  Do they have a spouse that is a concern?  Are any of your beneficiaries disabled?  Are they receiving any government assistance?  Is there anyone to whom you don’t want the money to go?  There are lots of options for estate planning. The better your attorney understands your family and your goals, the better your plan will be.

Who should be the executor?

Your estate plan will pass on some weighty responsibility to the person or persons you select.  The responsibilities will involve handling family members, bureaucrats, and possibly attorneys, not to mentions lots of paperwork.  The two traits I would focus on would be integrity and good communication.  Having a conversation with the person you’ve selected as an executor or successor trustee about your choice is a good idea.

You don’t need to have a final answer for any of these three things for your first appointment with an estate planning attorney.  Part of our jobs as estate planning attorneys is to discuss your options, and help you evaluate the pros and cons of each choice.  Giving some thought to each of these three things will prepare you for a productive discussion with your attorney.  In the end, having thought through these three simple things before your meeting will make your estate plan better.

Photo by Sudheer G