Pre-Drafting Operational Steps:
1. Initial Consultation: The first step is to have an initial consultation with your client to discuss their goals, wishes, and concerns. This will help you understand their unique situation and develop an estate plan that meets their specific needs.
2. Identify Assets and Liabilities: You should work with your client to identify all of their assets and liabilities, including any investments, property, bank accounts, insurance policies, and outstanding debts. This information is critical for creating an effective estate plan.
3. Determine Beneficiaries: You will need to determine who your client wants to receive their property after they pass away. This includes identifying specific beneficiaries for different types of assets, such as life insurance policies or retirement accounts.
4. Outline the Estate Plan: Whether you use software to assist you with drafting or not, this is the most critical part of the process of formulating an estate plan for your clients. Now that you have all of the information about your client's assets and liabilities, and have learned about their family situation and wishes for “who gets what,” you can use your brilliant legal mind to analyze the following:
- The mechanics and relative values of each asset and liability (i.e., accounts that are held and distributed differently than a checking account, for instance, retirement accounts, private investment holdings, business interests, CDs, etc.)
-The specific needs of your jurisdiction and how that might affect the structure of the plan you provide, from both a death tax perspective (i.e., inheritance tax, estate tax, income tax), the efficiency of local courts, and the actual state trust laws if you plan to use trusts that will last across multiple generations.
- The projected ongoing financial needs and priorities of your client and their intended beneficiaries.
5. Develop an Estate Plan: Based on your client's goals, assets, and beneficiaries, you will need to develop an estate plan that includes a will, trust, and other estate planning documents as necessary.
Post-Drafting Operational Steps:
1. Execution of Estate Planning Documents: Once the estate plan has been developed, the next step is to execute the estate planning documents, which involves signing the will, trust, and other documents in accordance with state law. (NOTE: We have seen many problems when the estate planning client with a trust has a co-Trustee or a trustee other than themselves and the document NEVER gets fully executed, which, in many jurisdictions, can invalidate the trust. Make sure if you have a Trustee who is different from the Grantor, that they are signing very soon after the Grantor signs.)
2. Storage of the Estate Planning Documents: (NOTE: This is where we see a lot of professionals dropping the ball.) Once the plan is properly signed by the client, you need to make sure that not only are the client’s original signed documents (specifically, their Will, POA, and Living Will) properly stored
3. Funding the Trust: If a trust is included in the estate plan, you will need to assist your client in properly funding the trust by retitling assets and making any necessary beneficiary designations.
4. Review and Update: It's important to regularly review and update your client's estate plan to ensure that it reflects their current wishes and circumstances. This may involve making changes to the will, trust, or other documents, as well as revisiting beneficiary designations and other aspects of the plan.
5. Provide Guidance to Fiduciaries: As an estate planning attorney, you may need to provide guidance to your client's fiduciaries, such as trustees, executors, and agents under powers of attorney, to ensure that they understand their roles and responsibilities and can properly carry out their duties.
In summary, estate planning attorneys must take a comprehensive approach to the estate planning process, including pre-drafting operation steps such as initial consultations, identifying assets and beneficiaries, and developing an estate plan, as well as post-drafting operation steps such as executing documents, funding the trust, reviewing and updating the plan, and providing guidance to fiduciaries.