When it comes to planning your estate, don’t expect the best results if you meet with your lawyer only twice. In most cases, we meet with our clients four times. The first meeting (which is complimentary) is to define objectives, set the parameters, and determine the fee. The second meeting is to review the papers prepared. The third meeting is to sign the papers. The fourth meeting is to deliver all the papers including a bound copy of the documents, and . . . to make sure assets are titled appropriately to work with the plan and to ensure that beneficiary designations on retirement plans and life insurance works with the plan documents. The review meeting (second meeting) is designed to give the client a deeper awareness of how the papers work and why. This opens the door for meaningful discussion and allows us to test-drive the papers. By entertaining different scenarios, we can fine tune the instructions to ensure we accomplish desired objectives. The main take away from all of this is that estate planning is a process whereby a person’s assets and affairs are arranged to most effectively maintain and protect the person’s assets, and his or her family, both during and after the person’s life, as well as providing for the smooth transfer of property after death. Maintenance and protection of your assets is the chief priority in all cases.
In order to do this, we analyze every case through a variety of filters.
FILTER ONE: 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.
FILTER TWO: The second filter is how best to plan to avoid or minimize exposure to the 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.
FILTER THREE: 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.
FILTER FOUR: The fourth filter is how to leave assets to loved ones in such a way so they have control and beneficial enjoyment but also so the assets are protected from creditors’ claims or claims of entitlement in divorce proceedings. Here, we often use trust law to leave assets protected. This is very beneficial for preserving our clients’ wealth and helping to keep the assets in their 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. The best process we have come up with to serve the client is the four meeting process described above. This permits you ample time to absorb (digest) what you are doing and allows the attorney to fine-tune the papers to address all concerns that emerge.
Mark F. Winn
Attorney at Law, PLLC