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Description of the Estate Planning Process


This memo is intended to describe to new clients of Poyner Spruill LLP the process of estate planning, the steps that will be taken, the information needed by your attorney, and other steps.

Prior to the initial meeting with the estate planning attorney, he or she may send you a data sheet for you to complete. This will ask for information about you and your family, information about the assets of you and your spouse, if you are married, and the names of fiduciaries whom you would like to appoint for various roles in your estate plan. Some clients ask why the financial information is needed. Such information is important so that we can advise you as to whether your estate would incur any estate taxes and to enable us to make recommendations to you about titling of assets, such as between spouses, to minimize possible estate taxes.

At the initial meeting we may provide you with other documents such as a brief summary of the current status of estate taxes, a memo describing typical estate planning formats, a list of various estate planning documents that we could prepare for you if requested and list of issues that may be considered by the owner of a closely held business.

We will discuss the above information with you at the meeting and, typically by the end of the meeting clients come to a conclusion as to the desired structure of their estate plan. The documents may include a Will (or a Pourover Will where a Revocable Trust will also be used), a Revocable Trust, a Durable Power of Attorney for Financial Management, A Health Care Power of Attorney and a Declaration of a Desire for a Natural Death. Your attorney will explain each of these forms to you. Depending upon your needs, your attorney can prepare other documents for you. Sometimes, the client will want to meet more than once to discuss his or her estate plan.

At the end of the initial conference, the attorney will explain that it is our Firm's policy to issue to new clients an engagement letter which describes the particular documents that will be prepared. The letter will also provide an estimate of the fees that will be incurred. Usually, the attorneys in our Firm bill on an hourly basis, thus the bill when issued will be based on the cumulative hours spent by the attorney in meeting with the client and in preparing the documents. We issue bills on a monthly basis. The attorney cannot represent the client unless he or she executes the engagement letter and returns it to the attorney. Thus the documents cannot be prepared until the signed engagement letter is returned to the attorney.

We will send you drafts of the documents which you requested be prepared. You can review those and contact your attorney with any particular questions, or changes. At the next meeting, your attorney will review the documents in detail with you and if they are acceptable to you, they will be signed at the meeting.

You will be provided with the originals of the documents as well as one or more copies as you may request. We cannot keep the originals of the documents. We suggest you place them in safe deposit box or other place of safe keeping, and retain a set of copies at you home where the keep your records. You may want to provide a copy of the documents to a family member, or at least let the family member know where the copy and the originals are located.

We will also provide you with a booklet that you may find helpful entitled "For My Family: Essential Information." The booklet is designed to provide information to your family members about your income, expenses, assets, debts, names of fiduciaries, information about insurance, and location of important papers so that your family members can take care of you in the event of your disability and properly deal with your assets in the event of your death. Once you complete the booklet, we suggest that you either give a copy to a close family member, or let that person know where it can be found.

After the completion and signing of your documents, we suggest that you review them every three to five years and contact your attorney to discuss whether any changes should be made.

Craig Dalton, an attorney no longer with Poyner Spruill, was the original author of this article.
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