Typically our estate planning process is as follows:
An initial meeting of approximately an hour-and-a-half is necessary to discuss the client’s specific situation and customize a plan. Many potential considerations are raised and the client determines which should be addressed, which should be explored in greater depth and which can be dismissed or dealt with another day. The documents are then prepared and mailed to the client for their review. At a second meeting the plan is explained and, if acceptable, executed. The documents are then packaged and delivered to the client for safekeeping. We prepare documents such as deeds and assignments to transfer assets to the trust (“funding the trust”) and are available to assist the client in transferring bank accounts and securities to the trust and modifying beneficiary designations if requested.
There are numerous issues that go beyond the typical basic estate plan. Estate tax reduction strategies, insurance trusts, incentive trusts, special needs trusts, asset protection, generation-skipping trusts, special trustees for business, business succession, complex trustee arrangements, and income tax considerations are a few matters that fall under Advanced Estate Planning. In our basic estate planning process, these topics may be identified and briefly discussed, however, detailed discussion and design are addressed in subsequent meetings.
Occasionally, a client’s situation is very simple and straight forward. For example, “I have a house, a bank account and an IRA; I want everything to go to my wife if she survives me and then to my kids. Keep it in trust for my kids until they are straightforward, 30 (or give them, for example, 1/3 at 25, 1/3 at 30, and the balance at 35) with my sister as trustee, and then distribute everything to them. I would like my sister to be the guardian of any minor child.” People with this simple fact pattern may not appear to need the customization provided by a thorough estate planning process, and therefore may be tempted to go to an internet legal document production site and pay only $800-$1,000, or less, for seemingly the same package.
There are four problems with the bargain basement choice. First, how do you know that what you are getting is really suitable for you if all you do is fill out a form and receive “help” from a technical assistant? Second, no one with any legal expertise is available to explain the “business points” of your plan. Third, there is security in knowing that if a real issue arises, you have a law firm that you trust to assist you. Fourth, there may be issues that you are not aware of that should be addressed.
Companies via the internet are marketing massed produced estate planning documents which are prepared without legal supervision. In addition, because the estate tax exemption is so high, and many people have no estate tax exposure, attorneys who do not devote a substantial part of their practice to the estate planning area are preparing these documents. Individuals should be wary of estate planning documents drafted in this manner. Estate planning is a complex area of the law. Any individual or firm engaged in providing estate-planning techniques and services should have a solid understanding of estate and gift taxation and the suitability of the documents to your particular situation.