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When you go to the doctor, you expect to be asked invasive questions. When you go see an estate planning attorney, however, you may not be expecting the same level of personal inquiries. After all, an attorney is not taking care of your body, so there are certain private matters that can be kept private, right?
Not necessarily. In order to come up with a plan that best protects you and your loved ones in the future, your estate planning attorney will need to ask you a series of questions about yourself and your life circumstances that could, at times, feel a bit invasive. However, it’s important to remember that your attorney has your best interests at heart and cannot develop the best plan – or even a good plan – for you when he or she is missing some of the facts. As such, when you meet with an estate planning attorney, here are some of the topics you should be prepared to discuss with them:
- Your relationship status.
Are you married? Happily, or not so happily so? Are you and your spouse on the same page when it comes to planning? Have you ever executed a separation agreement? Are you divorced? Have you ever been married, divorced, or widowed? Is this your first marriage? Do your loved ones all know that you are married? If you are unmarried, is there a significant other you’re sharing your life with that we may need to protect – or somehow get rid of – when you pass away? Do you live with an unmarried partner?
- Your children.
Who are your children? Do you have a good relationship with all of them? Are they biologically related to you? Have you legally adopted them? Do you consider anyone your child that you don’t have a biological or legal relationship to, such as a child of your married or unmarried partner? Were your children born during marriage or out of wedlock? Do all of your children have the same mother/father? Do you have biological or legal children who you do not get along with? Do you have biological or legal children who you want to disinherit? Why do you want to disinherit them?
- Your loved ones.
Do you have family members or friends, including those listed above, who you want to include in your planning? Do any of those people have special needs? Are any of those people known to have issues that may make them unfit to receive outright gifts from your estate or to take on legal responsibilities regarding you or your estate? Do any of your loved ones have a criminal history, addiction issues, or a known pattern of poor financial decision-making?
- Your assets.
What do you own? Do you have money in the bank, life insurance, annuities, stock accounts, a home that you own, etc.? Is there a mortgage on your home? Do you have outstanding debt of any kind? Are there any agreements in place that restrict the transfer or titling of your assets, such as a business agreement, a separation agreement, a divorce agreement, or a reparations agreement?
- Your health.
Are you currently healthy? If not, what diagnoses do you have? What is your prognosis? Is there treatment available for the condition or conditions you have? How do your diagnoses affect you, physically and mentally? Are any of your diagnoses degenerative? Do you expect your physical or mental condition to deteriorate beyond normal changes associated with aging? Do your loved ones know of your diagnoses, the prognosis for each, etc.?
- Your true wishes and feelings.
How are your relationships with your loved ones? Is there anyone in your family you wish to disinherit or any loved one you wish to make no provisions for? Why? How do you want your assets to be distributed at your death?
Although some of these questions won’t be those most comfortable for you to answer, it will be important for you to answer them honestly. Moreover, it is important for you to know that these are the types of topics estate planning attorneys are discussing with individuals and families constantly. We are here to help, not to judge, and we have a legal responsibility to keep all the information you tell us strictly confidential. We cannot tell your partner, your kids, your friends, or anyone else about anything you tell us unless you explicitly authorize us to. Help us help you by giving us all the facts we need in order to create the best plan to protect you and your loved ones.