The Estate Planning Process: Where to Begin?

We often hear from new clients that they don't know where to begin with the estate planning process. By the time we are finished, though, our clients often say, "if I knew this was going to be so easy, I would have done this years ago!" So, where do we begin the estate planning process?

The best place to begin with your estate plan is when you are healthy and of sound mind. While this may seem obvious, it is important to remember that estate planning is not something that can be done in reverse. This means that if a person dies or becomes incapacitated without having completed the estate plan, there is not much more that can be done. For this reason, we recommend everyone get started on their estate plan right away. Remember, you can always change it and update it as needed.

In our office, we generally spend one to two meetings designing your estate plan and have another meeting to review and sign all your documents. Prior to the first meeting, we ask that you complete our Estate Planning Welcome Kit to help us learn more about your situation and identify areas that will require a more in depth discussion. The Estate Planning Welcome Kit also helps familiarize you with some of the decisions that you will be making during the estate planning process.

It is helpful if you make a list of your assets and liabilities in preparation of your first appointment. This helps guide our discussions for the various ways assets pass when a person dies and how that will impact you. Gathering your property tax statements and/or deeds to your real estate is also helpful. A critical portion of estate planning is ensuring you have your real estate owned properly.

Often, we will be determining whether a will or a trust is more appropriate for you. It is important to remember that there is no hard and fast rule for making this determination and everyone's situation is different. In other words, what your neighbor/friend/co-worker did with their estate plan is not necessarily what you should do for your estate plan. Other estate planning tools we use can generally include transfer on death deeds, powers of attorney, health care directives, and living wills.

Besides the determination of where your assets will go and how they should get there, we also want to designate the people that will be in charge to help ensure your wishes are followed in the event of death or incapacity. These roles include personal representative, trustee, power of attorney, health care agent, and guardian (if you have minor children). Many clients ask if they need to have different people named in each role. While this can help spread out the duties and allow your loved ones to share responsibilities, we say "no". The guiding factor for this decision should, first and foremost, be in choosing people that can and will act capably when needed. In some cases, this might include naming a professional.

We aim to make the estate planning process stress free and transparent. Our clients often share how relieved they feel once everything is completed and that they appreciate how smooth we made the process. If you'd like to get started, give us a call at (507) 288-5567 to schedule an appointment. You can also book an appointment online or contact us online anytime of day.

For more reading, see 13 Estate Planning Terms You Need to Know.

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