“I just want a simple will.” As an attorney who has for the past twenty years focused a large part of her practice on estate planning, I cannot begin to count the number of times I have heard that statement from a new or prospective client. Regrettably, I likewise cannot begin to count the number of times I have reviewed wills prepared by other attorneys who, to the detriment of the clients and their loved ones, either followed that directive, or independently and erroneously concluded that a “simple will” would suffice.
Take, for example, the most seemingly simple estate planning scenario, the elderly couple who has a modest estate and three grown children, all from their marriage. They tell you they want the entire estate to pass to the surviving spouse, and then to their children, in equal shares. Have I done my job if I just prepare “I love you” wills with ultimate equal distributions to the three children? I don’t believe so.
These clients may have asked me for “simple wills,” but my job is to help them ensure that their estate passes in the manner they want with as little complication as possible. I can’t accomplish that goal without performing a thorough review and counseling session with the clients. For this reason, I ask all potential estate planning clients to bring copies of their asset documents to the initial conference, and I review the titling and beneficiary designations with them. More often than not, they don’t understand that the ultimate result of their estate plan will depend not on their will, but on how each asset is titled or designated to pass upon their death.
In addition, it is vitally important that I take the time to learn about the loved ones they are seeking to protect. Are any of them financially irresponsible? Disabled? Do the clients own real property in another state? Are they thinking about deeding a remainder interest in their homestead to their children in the hope of avoiding probate? Do they understand the potential ramifications these issues raise?
As an estate planning attorney, my job is to ask the right questions, thoroughly discuss all of the pertinent issues with my clients, and help them make informed decisions. If your estate plan was prepared by an attorney who did not perform an in-depth review of your assets and take the time to learn about your family and their unique issues, call Morgan Law Center for Estate, Elder & Legacy Planning for an estate plan review.