ACTEC Estate Planning Essentials

Preparing for Your Initial Estate Planning Meeting


Preparing for your initial estate planning meeting is crucial because it lets you clarify your financial goals and objectives, ensuring you make the most informed decisions regarding your assets and beneficiaries. Additionally, being organized and informed in advance can help streamline the meeting, making it more efficient and productive for you and your estate planning attorney.

ACTEC Fellows Richard R. Gans and Richard N. Sherrill offer recommendations for preparing for the initial meeting to be efficient with time.

Richard R. Gans
Richard N. Sherrill


Good afternoon. I’m Rick Gans. I am an ACTEC Fellow in Sarasota, Florida and I’m here today with Richard Sherrill, an ACTEC Fellow in Pensacola, Florida. And we’re talking today about preparing for an initial meeting with your estate planning lawyer. So, Richard, you’ve made the appointment with the estate planning attorney. You’ve taken that big first step, what should you bring with you to the appointment?

Richard Sherrill:  Thanks, Rick. For the initial meeting, the estate planning attorney will typically send out a questionnaire that overviews general family and financial information. And being able to prepare that and send it to the attorney in advance of the meeting is a very good use of time, makes for an efficient meeting.

Rick:  So, I’ve seen some of those questionnaires and they go on for page after page and they seem to want you to give information about everything there is to the very last penny. Is that level of detail something that the lawyer really needs to have in a meeting like this?

Richard:  Well, generally what we need to know is what the assets are, how they’re titled, and what the approximate value is for those. We’ll also ask whether there are beneficiary designations, whether they are pay on death, transfer on death. And so, we get a financial snapshot of the estate planning client. We’ll also ask for family information, proper names, nicknames-we hear from time to time, during the meeting, we’ll know who we’re speaking about- and also, we need to know family information, next generation such as children and also grandchildren, so we can get a good understanding of the family.

Rick:  Well, that’s something that your clients can pretty much speak to from knowledge; don’t have to support that. But what about bringing copies of account statements and deeds and marriage licenses and stuff like that?

Richard:  Certainly. Having copies of the most recent financial monthly statements is very helpful because it tells us what we need to know. Typically, it’s going to reflect how that asset is titled, what the approximate value is as of a certain date, and whether there are any beneficiary designations.

For the state of Florida, real property, we generally don’t need the client to provide us with copies of deeds which we can pull from the public records. Out of state deeds it is very helpful for us to have a copy of, and if any real property is held in a manner other than in the client’s name, such as a particular trust or an entity like an LLC, we might not normally find those. That’s very helpful to have copies of that information in advance. But copies of publicly available documents in Florida like deeds are not necessary.

And also, it’s not necessary to bring copies of marriage licenses, copies of Social Security cards; that kind of information can simply be provided by the client.

Rick:  So, you mentioned about making sure you know the names of the children, grandchildren. Of course, getting the names spelled correctly is always a nice thing to have. But what other information is the lawyer likely to elicit from the client about their children or beneficiaries?

Richard:  Well, knowing some of the details on family members can be very helpful. If there are any particular limitations or opportunities that family members have, that can be helpful for us in crafting the estate plan. Also, if there were any particular details about relationships among the family members, whether some get along very well and others might not, that’s very helpful for us to know. And so, being ready to discuss the general family details is important. And I recognize that that is often a lawyer asking a client for personal and often private family details, but it’s important to have that information in the estate planning meeting.

Rick:  I agree. You mentioned the fact that the lawyer’s likely to elicit a lot of information that’s kind of private. Tell me about what the lawyer does with that information.  Can the lawyer tell somebody else about that?

Richard:  No, the information that we learn and gather at an estate planning conference is confidential. That is strictly between the attorney and the client. It is not revealed in any way that the client does not ask us to. So, it is confidential. So, that gives the client comfort in knowing that the information they’re providing about their family and financial information will not be revealed to others, but instead will be kept in the highest confidence.

Rick:  Well, and that’s important so that you have a lot of candor and honesty in the discussion like that, and that helps the attorney to do the right thing by the family. If I’m coming to see you and I already have existing estate planning documents, do I need to bring those along?

Richard:  It’s helpful for us to have a look at those, prior to the meeting especially. In some instances, documents that are well drafted previously may only need to be updated with an amendment or a slight change to those documents. And so, that can be a lighter task than drafting documents from scratch. In other instances, documents may be just fine. It could be a healthcare document or a durable power of attorney, if reviewed and approved by the attorney, in some cases, those documents may not need to be updated. So, having the existing documents for review in advance of the meeting makes for a good use of our time.

Rick:  Well, everybody wants to be efficient with time these days. So, what about beneficiary designations for IRAs, life insurance and annuities? Is that something the lawyer’s likely going to look at?

Richard:  A very important piece of the estate planning process, Rick, knowing whether the clients have designated beneficiaries for retirement, as you mentioned; or life insurance, whether they are transfer on death or pay on death beneficiary designations; whether assets are jointly titled with rights on survivorship. It’s very important to know what the documents we will be drafting control. Documents that set out to address assets that may have beneficiary designations, we need to know what those beneficiary designations are.

Rick:  Of course. Well, to return to a point you mentioned before, it sounds like there can be a lot of personal information that the client’s going to reveal to the lawyer. Is that your sense of it as well?

Richard:  It is. But that’s our function, to elicit the important, confidential family information and financial information that we need so that we can best prepare the estate plan for the client.

Rick:  Makes good sense, Richard. A lot of good stuff there. Thank you for spending some time with me today. And we appreciate you being with us and you be well.

Richard:  Well, thanks for the opportunity, Rick. Same to you.

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