The Importance of Communication in Estate Planning: Between Your Attorney and You
By: Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
March 26, 2020
Communicating your vision of how you leave a legacy behind can be more difficult than you initially imagine.
Some people aren’t aware of the estate planning tools at their disposal or which ones they may need. Or maybe they don’t know the process for executing a particular aspect of their vision. Perhaps there is uncertainty about whether there is a legacy to hand down at all.
Difficulty expressing your wishes, however, is never an excuse for not attempting to communicate them. And the most important sounding board you can have is the person (or legal team) who can get you there.
Estate Planning Is a Four-Stage Process
A considerable proportion of communicating with your estate planning team actually happens at the front end of the process: the selection of your estate planning attorney.
This is stage one of a four-stage estate planning process. We liken the process to a first date. As with any relationship, open communication is key at the outset.
That means you should ask questions (get to know the person or team you intend to essentially hand your life over to) before you commit.
Stage One: Asking Questions
There are two questions every client should ask a potential estate planning firm:
Do You Offer Comprehensive Estate Planning Services?
Depending on your personal circumstances, you may need a variety of estate planning tools like wills, trusts, powers of attorney, life insurance policies, and prenuptial agreements.
You’ll want your planning team to be well-versed in all the areas you need in order to ensure the protection of your estate. This is especially true if you personally are unfamiliar with them.
How Often Will We Meet?
We recommend that every Haimo client tries to meet with us at least once each year. Most estate planning attorneys offer one or two reviews annually for a relatively small fee.
The fact is, most people aren’t thinking about their estate every single day. It’s the reason you hire a team like us. When we meet, we catch up. What changes have occurred in your life? What’s changed legislatively? Based on that information, we decide what adjustments to make to your plan.
Stage Two, Three, and Four: After You Partner with an Estate Planning Team
There are three more stages in the estate planning process once you commit to your attorney or firm. They are the drafting stage, the execution stage, and finally, maintenance.
Drafting Your Estate Plan
Drafting your estate plan is a stage that can take some time. During this period we outline an entire plan for the handling of your estate based on your communications to us of what you want and need for your family.
When reviewing, you are free to send us questions or return the documents with requested revisions. Once the plan is exactly how you’d like, we meet to sign off on the plan.
Executing the Estate Plan
Once everyone has signed off on the initial plan, it’s time to execute. Depending on the terms we’ve agreed to, your planning team may handle a greater or lesser proportion of the paperwork and procedures.
Then, we meet again to finalize all changes to your estate. This includes signing and/or notarizing new beneficiary documents, transfers of assets into trusts, and updates to your will.
Besides communicating annually or bi-annually, our door is always open when questions come up for you or changes need to be made to your plan. Beyond that, we consistently provide clients with new estate planning tips and education online through our blog and social media.
Another Important Procedural Question: How Privilege Works
While attorney-client privilege certainly applies in an estate planning relationship, the fact is that you will likely be communicating with more than just an estate planning law firm to do the job.
There are accountants and advisors, and sometimes even medical personnel that must be consulted and apprised of a client’s estate planning directives. Some of the other ways we ensure your privacy remains intact are documents addressing protections such as:
- work-product privilege
- accountant-client privilege
- HIPPA confidentiality which protects medical records
- doctor-patient privilege, including psychotherapists
Ultimately, every aspect of the estate planning process requires some level of communication between you and your attorney. Remember, your team is charged with executing your wishes and directives both here and now… and when you are gone.
To learn more about our commitment to client communication, and how it helps in asset protection and estate planning, get in touch.
Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
Strategic Planning With Purpose®
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