Thursday, June 20, 2024

How to Speak to an Attorney


Many people live decades of adult life before they ever see an attorney. Perhaps they procrastinate on estate planning, never get divorced or adopt a child, never serve as someone’s executor, never start a business, never face criminal charges, and never suffer a personal injury. Also, in many states, people use title companies, instead of lawyers, to conduct real estate closing transactions.

Then there comes a time in life when people need an attorney. Often, it is when they are older, and-perhaps-wealthier and start thinking about transferring assets. What to do? This post describes tips for speaking to an attorney from a seminar that I attended that was taught by two attorneys.


Go Prepared- Have a clearly defined purpose for meeting with an attorney (e.g., serving as an executor or drafting a will) and try to anticipate questions that will be asked about pertinent facts related to your case. In addition, make a list of specific questions that you need answers to.


Gather Documents- Bring materials related to a case when seeing with an attorney. For meetings related to serving as executor, this includes: a deceased person’s will, bank statements, car/house titles, death certificates, funeral/cremation bills, and a net worth (assets – debts) calculation.


Prepare to Discuss “Sensitive” Topics- Consider two common examples: treating children equally in wealth transfers and wanting to keep assets solely in the family blood line by excluding any transfers to a child’s spouse. The attorneys noted that family bequests do not have to be equal.


Be Open About Heirs With Issues- Let an attorney know about children in prison or with a substance abuse issue as this information is germane to proper estate planning. Be open and honest about family disfunction issues and know that an attorney is there to help you, not to judge you.


Consult Your Spouse First- Talk with your spouse about the issues that you are consulting an attorney about. Otherwise, you might just hear the words “I didn’t know you felt that way” in discussions with an attorney and that can be awkward for everyone involved.


Be Open About Marital Status- Tell your lawyer if you are separated (and therefore technically married) and living apart, but not divorced. This situation has implications for taxes and asset transfers. For example, the sale of a jointly held home without a separated spouse’s consent.


Consider Attorney Fees- Remember that, while attorneys can serve in designated roles in legal documents (e.g., executor), it can be expensive, especially for them to act as a durable power of attorney agent. If you do name an attorney, provide them with detailed information about your finances so they have the background information that they need and don’t have to hunt it down.


Review and Revise- See an attorney every 3 to 5 years after estate planning documents are prepared or sooner if there are major lifestyle changes (e.g., death of an heir, executor, or spouse). The purpose of the review is to make sure that documents still do what you want them to do.

This post provides general personal finance or consumer decision-making information and does not address all the variables that apply to an individual’s unique situation. It does not endorse specific products or services and should not be construed as legal or financial advice. If professional assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought.



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