Gathering Information for Your Estate Plan: What Your Attorney Needs to Know

Congratulations! If you’re reading this article, then you’re probably deep into considering setting up an estate plan to prepare for your future. While there is a lot of discussion surrounding the act of setting up an estate plan, fewer articles address what is needed once you’ve made that decision.

Luckily, this article aims to help guide you through the organization process as you prepare your estate plan. A plethora of personal and financial information is going to be necessary to help your estate attorney create a plan that best fits your needs. If you’re organized and prepared, the process will run smoothly and efficiently, benefiting you and your estate attorney.

What Financial Information Is Needed?

The short answer to this question is: all of it. Any assets that you believe will survive your lifetime and be available to your beneficiaries under your estate should be organized and referenced throughout the process of creating any estate plan. How will your attorney know what to list if they don’t know where your money is? It is crucial to have your attorney assess your entire financial picture so that they can figure out not only your current financial snapshot, but also what your estate value might be in the future.

It is crucial to have your attorney assess your entire financial picture so that they can figure out not only your current financial snapshot, but also what your estate value might be in the future.

Financial information, often referred to as intangible assets, consists of information on savings, investments, and the like. Checking and savings account information will establish general information about the current state of finances. Stocks, bonds, and mutual fund information is also crucial, as these assets are typically more long-lasting than checking and even savings accounts in some cases. Speaking of savings, any retirement plans, such as 401(k)s and other types of retirement plans are also crucial, as there is a good chance portions of these amounts will become part of your estate when you pass on.

Other important intangible assets include life insurance policies, health savings accounts, and any other long-term savings and investment accounts. Additionally, any ownership over a business should be discussed. Finally, be sure to document any future endowments or expected windfalls, like judgments from court cases, inheritances, or potential treasure trove discoveries. Showing up to your estate attorney’s office with this necessary financial information is going to greatly assist the attorney in figuring out the best way to design your personalized estate plan.

What About Property and Physical Possessions?

Often referred to as tangible assets, organizing and listing physical property and possessions is just as important as bringing your financial information. When it comes to physical property, most estate planners primarily think of their homes. Mortgage information and ownership status, as well as any deeds and titles should be brought to your meeting with your estate attorney. While it is imperative that any estate planner bring along information about their home, land, and other real estate assets, it is not the only necessary information needed for tangible assets.

If you own a car, motorcycle, truck, boat, or other type of transportation, it is necessary to bring titles, insurance information, and other details for these items to your estate planning meetings. Additionally, any expensive personal belongings, including collectibles, art, antiques, or any personal property that could potentially gain value over time should be cataloged. Really, any physical assets the estate planner values can be included in various estate planning documents, and should be addressed when speaking with an estate attorney.

What About Determining Value?

Ultimately, your estate planning will be organized specifically around how valuable each individual asset is. While intangible assets are typically valued on their face through financial statements (an investment worth $50,000 is simply worth $50,000), tangible property is more complicated to value.

It is crucial to have as many valuables appraised as you can before planning your estate. Possibly the most important valuation will be your home or other real estate, as the worth of these assets can fluctuate quite drastically over time. Any particularly expensive collectibles, antiques, or other physical property should also be appraised. If you cannot get valuations in time, you can always attempt to place value on items based on how beneficiaries will value them. This can help the attorney figure out how to allocate assets to different parties, despite a lack of concrete value to work with.

Is Information About My Family Important?

Of course it is! Despite estate planning being about you and your assets, your family and beneficiaries will be receiving that estate eventually. It’s important to consider the needs your family might have once you pass on. Take note of which family members value certain tangible assets, including which family members you would like to care for but who might not be responsible with a full inheritance.

Understanding family and beneficiary dynamics is crucial for an estate attorney to properly do their job. Perhaps your son is planning on taking on a substantial amount of debt to attend graduate school. Consider the life insurance plan that you or your spouse have. Additionally, if any family members have government benefits like social security or disability, an inheritance might cause them to lose some of those benefits if not planned for properly.

It is also important to consider the personal lives of potential beneficiaries. For example, if a beneficiary has a known gambling or drug problem, this could tie into how the testator might want to disperse the inheritance in order to avoid it being quickly squandered.

Are there any legal documents that could bar the testator from disseminating an inheritance to whomever they want? A pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement can stand in the way of the testator being able to distribute their assets based on their surviving spouse. Any family and beneficiary information will help you attorney better understand your personal needs and desires when it comes to caring for others in your life.

Finding an Attorney to Set Up an Estate Plan

Due to the importance and sensitive nature of estate planning, it is of utmost importance that you research estate attorneys before selecting one. Rosenblum Law offers a robust and successful estate planning process. Our helpful staff is always ready to answer questions.

Additionally, we offer a safe and secure client portal which allows estate planners to upload their documents for easy access by their estate attorney. This removes the headache and stress of trying to get all documents ready for a single meeting, and offers convenience to both clients and the attorneys. Call us today for a free, initial consultation.

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