Maryland estate planning involves setting up a plan that meets the client’s needs, supported by appropriate legal instruments. The plan kicks in during life if a physical or mental incapacity prevents the client from acting in his or her own behalf. It also provides, through a last will, for the distribution of assets post-death. In some cases, a living trust may be selected as a main tool in the plan. The comprehensive strategy is formulated during an initial consultation with the estate planning attorney. Additional fact-gathering sessions may sometimes follow, and a final meeting is held to review, get instructions, and sign the documents.
What can you do to prepare for that first meeting so that it is an effective and productive interchange?
It is best to come prepared with one’s thoughts and detailed information in hand. The first meeting allows the attorney to learn about the client’s life, family and loved ones, special needs, and aspirations for the future. The attorney can also formulate a thorough picture of the client’s financial situation. In addition, the attorney will set the legal fees and discuss any options in services that may be available. It will ideally begin a convivial and productive relationship, continuing into the future as changing times and circumstances may periodically require modifications and updates.
Preparation begins by your making a folder or container to hold all details regarding your financial life. If there is already a partial or complete estate plan, include also all legal instruments for the attorney’s review. Next, prepare a list of assets, including all real estate, investment and retirement accounts, life insurance policies, cars, boats, trailers, safe deposit boxes, stocks, bonds, antiques, valuable art and all valuable property. Include proof of income, such as pensions, pay stubs, social security, workers’ compensation and any other benefits.
Copy all accounts, deeds, policies and other indicia of ownership. List all property owned under a right of survivorship with another person, all pay at death accounts, and similar assets. Another important subject these days is to inform the attorney what should be done with one’s digital accounts. Instructions, passwords, and any other details must be provided for each account to avoid controversy and even post-death litigation over these matters.
Prepare a list of debts, including mortgages, loans, credit cards, medical bills and other debts. Include also co-signed loans and copies of any divorce agreements, contracts, business agreements, and legal documents that may elucidate relevant financial matters. List also each person to be appointed, including the executor, the agent for the power of attorney, trustees, and a health care proxy designee. The same person can serve more than one task, and the client must decide the best choice for each, along with an alternate just in case. Be prepared to say whether the doctors are authorized to use artificial means to prolong life during a final illness.
It is important to come with a list of each person who will inherit under the will, with current address, phone number, and the percentage given to each or that they shall share equally. Create also a list of all relatives, including decedents and even those who are not beneficiaries. The executor may be mandated by law to send them notice when opening the estate.
The client may designate a financial planner or CPA to attend the first meeting, with advance notice given to the estate planning attorney. The attorney will work cooperatively with other experts to achieve the best outcome for the client, while applying both federal and Maryland law in the calculations where applicable. It all sounds like a lot of work, but it is easy once you get started! It is well worth the effort and will save you money by not having to invest time later on searching for missing estate planning information.