One of the biggest obstacles that people seem to come up against when thinking about drawing up a Will or making some plans for retirement is uncertainty about the process. It’s common to avoid things that make us nervous, and many people put off calling an attorney about their estate plan because they don’t even know what to say at the first phone call. Or, they are afraid that it will take a long time to finish things.
The process in my office usually looks like this:
1. Call the office to make the appointment for an initial visit. At that time, we’ll get a little information from you and then send you out a Client Information Form that will help you put together some information. It’s not a test, so if you don’t get the whole thing filled out don’t worry.
How to avoid a hold up at this step: Don’t put off calling just because you haven’t made decisions about your plan.
2. The initial meeting. This is where we talk about your family, your goals, your current plan, and yes, your budget, so that we can come up with the best plan for you and your family. We’ll go over things like what assets you own, how they are held, who you want to inherit them. We’ll also talk about the people you want making health care decisions for you and who you want to name as guardian of your minor children.
It’s ok if you haven’t finalized these things before the meeting. Talking about the various roles and what’s involved can help you narrow down your list.
How to avoid a hold up at this step: Don’t postpone the meeting because you haven’t filled out the entire intake form. Do talk to your spouse or family so that you can make some preliminary decisions before the meeting.
3. You Decide. After the initial meeting, I generally send out a letter that lays out what we talked about, the preliminary plan, and any decisions that still need to be made. I also let you know what the final fee is (which we would have talked about at the meeting, also.) At this point, you can make changes to the plan and send in the signed agreement, along with part of the fee.
How to avoid a hold up at this step: Call the office if you have questions about the letter, and send it back in a timely fashion.
4. Review of Drafts. I will generally send out drafts to my clients so they can make sure the appropriate people are named as their agents, and that the distributions in their Wills and Trusts are the way the want them. Changes can be made at this point if necessary.
How to avoid a hold up at this step: Open the envelope and review the drafts. Call the office if you have questions and don’t get bogged down by the “legalese.” I go over the documents in details before you sign them.
5. The Signing Meeting. At the signing meeting, you’ll review the documents one more time, I’ll go over in detail the legal terminology and answer any questions you have. Once everything has been reviewed, I call in the witnesses. They are there to make sure that you are signing without any undue influence, and that you are over 18 and of sound mind. They will watch you sign the documents, and then they sign the documents.
Then, I give you your original documents and a set of copies and I keep a set of copies. The remainder of the fee is payable at that point.
The whole process from start to finish can be a couple of days (for someone with an urgent health situation who can’t wait), a couple of weeks (for someone who is traveling soon and has no plan in place) or a couple of months (for someone with more complex decisions to make, or advisors to consult.) Usually, it’s about 4 – 8 weeks total, after the first appointment.
As you can see, the process isn’t that scary, and there’s a lot about it that you control, including picking up the phone and making the first phone call.