Often times, the process of planning one’s estate involves asking rather private questions and seeking answers to deeply personal issues. But why does an attorney need to know this when a “situation is simple?” Because estate planning is, by nature, very personal. Without your estate planning attorney asking such probing questions, she or he cannot be confident in knowing your best interests are being thoroughly and professionally represented.
An analogy you may appreciate involves a doctor’s visit. Imagine visiting your physician’s office for a pain issue but not being willing to discuss where it hurts. Needless to say, your doctor wouldn’t be able to properly diagnose the source of the pain without utilizing his medical expertise in asking questions to his patient. Similarly, your estate planning attorney will be unable to locate the cause(s) of potential future pain amongst, say, your family and/or beneficiaries, if you are unwilling to “let him in” a bit.
To reiterate, estate planning attorneys aren’t being nosey when asking for information prior to a consultation or even during the meeting itself; we are simply trying to discover potential pain sources so as to plan around them (we like to call this technique “avoiding future legacy landmines”). Some landmines may be avoidable based on your willingness to discuss:
- Potential conflicts of interest between spouses or with others
- Types of assets owned; Values of assets owned (painful to discuss for many); Methods of asset ownership
- Pre-marriage and post-marriage property agreements
- Relative “strength” of the clients’ marriage and/or loved ones’ marriages
- Interpersonal relationships amongst family members
- Health of the client(s) and loved ones
- Creditor issues for the client(s) and loved ones
- Responsibility/Irresponsibility levels of the loved ones
- Drinking, Drug, Gambling and/or other problems related to the client(s) and loved ones
- Special Needs issues
Throughout the estate planning process, you will inevitably be asked questions involving several of these issues. Please remember to take comfort in knowing your attorney is a skilled professional who wants to be in a position to give you solutions to estate planning problems you may not have anticipated.