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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What should I expect from an estate-planning meeting?



So, you've got an appointment coming up with a Will-planning lawyer and you're wondering what exactly you're in for. What will be covered in that first meeting? Will there have to be more than one meeting? Will the lawyer want other people to get involved? In this post, I'm going to talk about what you should expect.





First of all, the lawyer should be someone whose personality clicks with yours on a business level. You should feel at ease, and feel that you can speak freely without being judged. You should feel that the lawyer listened to you and understood your priorities. I remember once going to a doctor I didn't know, only because mine was on vacation, and I disliked the new doctor as soon as he opened his mouth. He was short-tempered and sarcastic. I would never consult him again. You don't necessarily have to become personal friends with your lawyer, but on the other hand, it shouldn't be unpleasant when you spend time with him or her either.





You should also have confidence that the lawyer you're working with has experience in this area of law. If you want to ask how long the lawyer has been practicing or how many Wills he or she writes in a year, go ahead. But even without asking those questions, you should feel that the lawyer spoke with confidence and gave you solid advice.





I've noticed that many people are very reluctant to get second opinions on legal matters, even though it's commonly done for medical issues. If you absolutely cannot accept what the lawyer is telling you, or think he or she is wrong, simply say that you're not ready to have the lawyer do any work for you until you've had a second opinion elsewhere. Someone said that to me once and it didn't hurt my feelings!





If you are a senior and are being brought to the meeting by a caregiver or one of your children, you should expect the lawyer to want to see you alone. This is a way of protecting you, and is not an insult to the person who brought you to the meeting.





You should expect your lawyer to come up with ideas and solutions. Present your situation factually, then tell the lawyer what you want to achieve (e.g. protection for minor children), and possibly what you want to avoid (e.g. excessive taxation). Once in a while clients come to see me with everything pre-planned and basically try to dictate a Will to me. That won't work with an experienced lawyer. The lawyer is supposed to bring his or her experience and knowledge to the table and use his/her judgment to come up with ideas that work for you. That's what you're paying for. You should hear ideas that you hadn't thought of yourself. You should find yourself thinking, "I didn't know that". You should be able to talk through the pros and cons of any ideas you might have thought of, so that you and the lawyer can evaluate it for effectiveness.





The lawyer should be able to put you in touch with other professionals that you may need during the estate-planning process, such as accountants, financial advisors and insurance representatives.





If your estate is not overly complicated, you may well be able to leave the first meeting with the estate plan completely outlined between you and the lawyer. If things are more complicated, it may take more than one meeting.





You should expect the lawyer to tell you what it is going to cost to draft your Will and incapacity documents, as well as anything else required (e.g. trust deed). The lawyer should indicate how much the fees will be, as well as whether there are any disbursements. Disbursements are things the lawyer pays for out of pocket, such as a corporate registry search, or something the lawyer charges for per unit, such as photocopying.

As with any dealings with your lawyer, you should expect him or her to keep your matters completely confidential, even if the lawyer knows your kids or your neighbours or business associates. Your lawyer shouldn't mention your estate planning to anyone without your authorization.


Finally, you should leave the meeting with a clear idea of who is doing what as the next step. If there are things the lawyer asked you to do or to find out, you should have them in a list. You should have an idea of what happens next, and when you should expect it to happen.

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