Questions to Ask Before Meeting with an Estate Planning Attorney

Prior to making an appointment with an estate planning attorney, ask yourself a few questions to come prepared to the meeting. If you don’t know the answer, come with prepared questions for your attorney. Doing this will ensure the best use of your time and money.

  • What makes up my estate? Your estate consists of all the assets you possess at the time of your death, including:
    • Securities (stocks, bonds, preferred shares, etc.)
    • Real estate (solely owned, jointly owned with rights of survivorship, or joint as tenants in common)
    • Interest in a business (What type of business? What is your percentage interest?)
    • Personal property (tangible property like jewelry that has value)
    • Cash
    • Retirement plans and IRAs (Do you have beneficiaries designated?)
    • Life insurance death benefits (Do you have beneficiaries designated?)
  • What’s the difference between a will and a trust?
    • Wills become effective after death. Trusts are effective on creation.
    • Wills direct who gets what and appoint a legal representative to oversee the process. Trusts can distribute property prior to death.
    • Trusts cover only property placed in trusts. Wills cover anything solely owned by the person creating the will.
    • Wills are public record. A trust remains private.
  • What is power of attorney, and should I worry about it?
    • Power of attorney grants legal rights to another person. That person makes decisions when you are unable to — including about financial affairs.
    • By appointing power of attorney, you choose whom you want, rather than the courts deciding.
    • Think about if you want a springing power of attorney, one that goes into effect upon a certain condition, or a standard power of attorney that goes into effect upon execution.
  • Do I need to create a medical directive?
    • A medical directive can include a health care proxy, which gives treating hospitals and physician authorization to communicate with your designated agent about your medical health; and medical instructions, which can specify your desired end of life care. It can save a great deal of emotional trauma for the loved ones you leave behind.
  • When should I make updates to my estate plan? When life events occur — they include:
    • Marriage
    • Having children or adopting children
    • Divorce
    • Death of a spouse
    • Change in assets
    • Relocation
    • Change in status of a guardian, trustee or executor
    • Changes in tax laws
  • How do I prevent my family from contesting my will?
    • Ensure your will is properly executed.
    • Explain your decisions to your family while you’re still alive.
    • Add an in terrorem clause to your will.
  • If I have a living trust, do I still need a will?
    • You may still need a will to capture any assets not transferred to your trust account.
    • A pour-over will transfers assets to your trust.
    • When you establish a living trust, you need to remember to transfer your assets to the trust.
    • Assets not transferred without beneficiary designations or that aren’t jointly titled with another individual may still be subject to probate.
  • What is probate? Probate is a process that transfers the assets of a deceased person. It includes:
    • Validation of wills
    • Payment to creditors
    • Distribution of assets to heirs according to terms of the will
    • A third-party mediator to settle disputes
    • Filing the appropriate paperwork with the probate court and paying estate tax fees and probate court fees.
  • Is probate a concern only for large estates? This is a common misconception.
    • Although there may be exceptions and workarounds available through careful estate planning, most estates require probate at death
    • Connecticut has adopted simplified procedures reducing the cost and time delays for small estates (those without solely owned property and that are under $40,000 in assets).

Of course, this is not the whole story! There are other questions, and all of them will likely require more detailed answers. But if you get started with these, you’ll have a more profitable discussion with the attorneys and accountants involved in settling the estate.

At the end of the day, an estate plan preserves your assets’ value while reducing unnecessary taxes and expenses. It ensures that your heirs receive what you intend them to receive, especially those with disabilities or who may be incapacitated. The more you know, the better you’ll be able to achieve your goals.

Do you have questions?

Count on our experienced team at Ericson, Scalise & Mangan, PC to provide you with sound guidance for your Estate Planning, Elder Law, Real Estate, Probate, Trust & Estate Administration, and other legal needs. For assistance, contact us today at (860) 229-0369, or email us at

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