When it comes to planning your estate, don't expect the best results if you meet with your lawyer only twice.
It's much better if a lawyer meets with clients three times in person and once or twice via phone. So, this is a four-meeting approach.
The first meeting (which is complimentary in our office) is to define objectives, set the parameters, and determine the fee. The second meeting is to review the papers prepared.
The third meeting is via phone and is designed to answer questions and fine-tune the papers. The fourth meeting is to sign all the papers and provide final advice.
This way, the legal team can entertain different scenarios, and fine tune the instructions to ensure they accomplish desired objectives for clients and their family.
In every case, the plan should be analyzed through a variety of filters.
1. The first filter is how best to plan to avoid unnecessary probate. This is attractive because the probate process is not private (all the information is available to the public), and it can be unduly burdensome and costly.
Fees to the court are based on the value of the probate estate. Fortunately, we can convert probate property so it is not subject to probate and thus not subject to court fees.
2. The second filter is how best to plan to avoid or minimize exposure to federal estate taxes. The federal estate tax can be very taxing. Fortunately, basic planning can go a long way to avoid this tax completely.
If there is a substantial amount of wealth to protect, there are a variety of planning strategies that can be very effective to minimize or avoid this tax.
3. The third filter is how to maximize deferral of income taxes in retirement plans. Here, we look closely at beneficiary designations and educate and inform the client about what steps may need to be taken to ensure maximum income tax deferral on these accounts.
4. The fourth filter is to make sure we are addressing planning options to minimize complete dissipation of assets in light of long term care costs that can consume an estate.
5. The fifth filter is how to leave assets to loved ones in such a way that they have control and beneficial enjoyment, but also so the assets are protected from lawsuits (such as divorce, if assets get commingled) and so the assets stay in your family bloodline, or are passed on to whom you wish.
Here, we often use trust law to leave assets protected for loved ones so they control it but that it stays in your family.
When you undertake this important step to put your affairs in order, you should realize that it should be a process.
Business forces would have you believe you are buying a product. That is not entirely accurate. You are receiving a service that yields a product that reflects a sound structure to protect you and your family.
Best results are realized when there is a process designed to serve the client.
Mark F. Winn, J.D., Master of Laws (LL.M.) in estate planning, is a local asset protection, estate and elder law planning attorney. mwinnesq.com