The first step towards creating an estate plan to protect you and your family is to actually make that initial appointment. The idea of meeting with a lawyer and discussing heavy estate planning matters can be daunting and overwhelming. We walk our clients through the process. While it isn't a walk in the park, we do our best to make it easy and methodical. As noted earlier, the first step is calling our office and setting up the initial appointment. If you are married, it is important for both spouses to be at the initial appointment. Spouses are a team, and having both spouses involved is important and necessary. There are many occasions when one spouse is more interested in estate planning than the other spouse. That being said, it's still important for both spouses to be involved in the process. Furthermore, in most cases we are dealing with "community property" and one spouse cannot unilaterally dispose of such property.
Once an appointment is set, we ask our clients to fill out an estate planning questionnaire. We have two versions of this questionnaire - one for couples and one for single people. There is an online version and a PDF version of each. Both are available from the "Get Started" page of our website. The information provided on the questionnaire helps provide us with more information so we can offer you guidance and advice particular to your situation. The more information we have in advance, the more productive your initial consultation will be. Otherwise, the first meeting will only provide you with "general" advice, and that might not be the best use of your time.
During the initial meeting, we will discuss general principals and answer questions. We will also review your particular situation and offer guidance and advice. If you choose to proceed, we will ask that you sign a "retainer agreement" with our office. A retainer agreement is basically the contract between the attorney and the client. Half the total fee is then due. The other half is technically due when we deliver your drafts to you, but as a practical matter, we collect the balance at the second meeting when we sign and finalize your estate planning documents.
After you decide to retain our firm to assist you with your estate plan, we will get to work on your plan. About 30 days later, we send you drafts of your documents for your review. The drafts are usually accompanied by a summary to assist you with your review. In most cases, we also highlight certain sections of the documents where you should pay particular attention. When we send the drafts to you for your review, we usually contact you to set up a signing meeting for your estate plan. During that signing meeting, we will review your entire estate plan with you. Not only will we review the documents prepared, but we will also teach you HOW to use your estate plan. It's one thing to "have" a plan, but it's another thing to actually know how to use it. Once all documents have been signed, notarized, witnessed, and otherwise finalized, we will scan your entire estate plan to our computer system so we have a complete digital copy in our office. You will also be provided with the same scanned copy and all the original documents.
As the days, weeks, and months pass, you are always welcome to contact our office with any quick follow up questions. We are here for you and want to make sure you not only HAVE an estate plan, but that you actually understand how to use it.