Two Cardinal Rules of Planning

Estate planning is a process whereby a person’s assets and affairs are arranged to most effectively maintain and protect their assets, and their family, both during and after the person’s life, as well as providing for the smooth transfer of property after death.  When planning your estate, it is your responsibility to make sure that you obtain the professional and personal service you and your family deserve.  The level of service you obtain is your choice and your responsibility. 

When it comes to estate planning, there are two cardinal rules everyone should follow. 

Rule # 1: Know what you are signing. 

Rule # 2: See rule # 1.

As a consumer of professional services, you should know what to expect out of a legal representation.  You should fully understand how you will be represented.  For instance, how many meetings will you have?  Will there be an “in person” review of documents?  If not, why not?  Will the attorney personally assist you in matters regarding the titling of assets or will that be your responsibility?  These are all questions you should know the answer to before you engage any professional to assist you with legal matters.

All attorneys have their own manner of proceeding.  Some attorneys meet with clients at least 3 or 4 times during the course of a representation.  Others may only meet with the client twice: once during the initial meeting and the second time to sign papers.  You should know what to expect. 

Over the years, we have developed a procedure that involves three to five meetings for each representation.  Complicated cases may require even more meetings than that.  We have found that providing the client with an “in person” review of the documents is essential to ensure the representation is complete.  We have found there are too many variables and considerations that need to be addressed for your plan to take shape in only two meetings.  Accordingly, during our “in person” review of documents, we have the opportunity to orient the client towards the documents and to entertain possible scenarios to see what would happen given different factual circumstances.  I view this as an opportunity to test drive the documents.  This meeting is most often very productive for two reasons: (1) no one is asking you to sign anything, (2) it provides the attorney with a second exposure to the documents, and (3) it provides the client with a familiarity with the documents prior to signing that is beneficial in that it permits questions, concerns to be addressed.  It also provides the client with a time to reflect.

The moral of the story here is that you should know how you will be represented, what the procedures generally are and what to expect.  Ask the right questions and you will probably get the right results.

Contributed by

Mark F. Winn, PLLC

Bluffton attorney