Q: Can you suggest the best way to start or the first thing one should do to begin putting things in order?
A: I love this question: Where should you start? I mean, it’s easy to say that I’m going to plan, but it’s a little more daunting to actually figure out how to do that.
Once you have decided to plan, you’ve taken the important first step. I know that it isn’t always easy to plan your estate. No one wants to face their mortality and to recognize that one day the sun will come up and you won’t be there to enjoy it. It’s kind of scary. Necessary but scary.
The next thing that you should do is to figure out what are your goals. What is it that you want to accomplish? It doesn’t have to be complicated or philosophical. Your goal doesn’t have to be “I want to plan for an efficient transfer of wealth to provide for the well being of my family and future generations, utilizing cutting edge documentation.” How about “I want to make sure my kids get my stuff with as little hassle as possible”?
I’m guessing my advanced estate planning professor wouldn’t object to that goal, although he might prefer that I use more professional words than stuff and hassle. Don’t try to change me, man.
Once you have an idea of what you want to accomplish, the next step is calling the attorney and making an appointment. If you don’t have an attorney, ask your friends and family for a referral. If they had a good experience, chances are you will too. If you can’t get a referral, you can always check with the local bar association. Both Lake and Porter counties have active bar associations and a lot of towns and cities have one too. If all else fails, fire up the computer and check Google machine. Trust me, there are a lot options out there.
Once you have the goals and the appointment, think about the specifics. Who do you want to receive your assets? What if they predecease you? Who do you want to serve as personal representative? Who do you want to designate as your attorney-in-fact under the power of attorney and the healthcare representative under the healthcare representative designation? Have a couple of names as backups also. If you can’t think of anyone, tell the attorney and see what options they can come up with.
Next prepare for the appointment. Know what you own and rough estimates of the value. Know how assets are titled and which assets have beneficiary designations. Don’t go in guessing about what you own. Take the time and do a little homework. It’s not that time consuming and the more organized you are, the easier things will go. Also prepare some questions for the attorney. Make sure that you understand what they are going to prepare and why. Don’t be afraid to talk about fees. I guarantee that the attorney has thought about them.
Finally, don’t be afraid to talk about the bad stuff. The attorney will keep your confidences. A big part of my job is keeping people’s secrets. Attorney’s take that duty seriously so don’t keep something back because it’s embarrassing for you or a loved one. It may be important so be candid. If your son or daughter is a knucklehead, tell the attorney.
I’m glad that you have decided to plan because it’s not always easy to do that. Planning can be a bit of a chore but it doesn’t have to be unbearable. If you're struggling with the planning process, tell the attorney that too. An experienced attorney will help you deal with the uneasiness that comes from planning.
Christopher W. Yugo is an attorney in Crown Point. Chris’ Estate Planning Article appears online every Sunday at www.nwi.com. Address questions to Chris in care of The Times, 601 W. 45th Ave., Munster, IN 46321 or to Chrisyugolaw@gmail.com. Chris’ information is meant to be general in nature. Specific legal, tax, or insurance questions should be referred to your attorney, accountant, or estate-planning specialist.