Let’s face it. Considering the finality of life is not something any one really looks forward to. We envision the parade of horribles: infirmity, financial distress, loss of our partners and friends. But face it, we must. Planning for the years leading up to death and making arrangements for your estate is a way for you to take control over that process. It doesn’t have to be unpleasant. Indeed, it can be quite energizing, if you have the right attorney. When you think of an estate planning attorney, consider the following:
1. Your lawyer is also your counselor. You should feel like you have been heard and experiences and hopes for the future are validated. An initial consultation should be your opportunity to speak openly with your attorney, establish rapport, and to determine whether you trust the person and want to hire them to be the curator of your legacy. Some lawyers charge for an initial consultation. Some do not. You are the consumer and it is your money that will be spent on the service. You are in complete control of that initial visit.
2. If you are married or have ever been married, and you are approaching retirement age, you should speak with an estate planner about how and when to begin collecting social security. It can mean the difference in several thousands of dollars per year, payable to you and your spouse over your lifetime. Your planner will listen to your desired outcomes, look at your retirement assets, and perform computations to show you the most profitable time to elect to take your social security benefits.
3. It’s not just about the money. Sure. An estate planning attorney will produce for you a plan that represents your wishes and transfers your assets to your desired recipients. However, the thorough estate planner will help you plan for physical illness or mental decline, identify funding options for long-term care, and help you direct the medical treatment you want (and what you do not want) if you are no longer able to make those decisions.
4. It’s not just about the money, part II: Have you entered the fun and oftentimes complex online world? Have you stored precious photos and documents in digital form? Do you have on-line experiences that perhaps you wouldn’t want disclosed to your loved ones after you are gone? Your estate planner will assist you in identifying how to make available the data you stored on line, identify an appropriate executor for your digital estate, dispose of that which you want kept private and educate you on how to keep safe your passwords so that your survivors will be able to close your affairs and retain the memories that you created in the digital world.
5. “What did Mom say she wanted done with her remains”? Don’t do this to your survivors. It’s not the legacy you want to leave. You took control of everything else in your life. Now show your loved ones that you care about them by taking the time to document your final wishes. It will be an emotionally charged few days and your loved ones will need time to grieve. Your estate planner will help you make the funeral plan that you want, fund it, and memorialize your wishes to dispose of your remains.
… And bonus reason: Did you remember to make a plan for your pets? Your estate planning lawyer didn’t.