Parents of young children are tired, anxious, and a bit overwhelmed. They’re balancing parenting goals with career goals and, more often than not, feeling like they’re meeting neither. They know they need a . . . will? Or is it a trust? Or a living will, didn’t someone mention that once? What the parents know they need, on a basic level, is some document that tells the world who they wish to care for their children should the parents die before their kids reach adulthood. Here’s how estate planning attorneys can best help.
- Listen. When parents of young children come to see an estate planning attorney, the attorney’s first job is to be an engaged, active listener. They need to be an engaged listener because the clients will likely need an explanation of the various fiduciaries’ roles, i.e., how a guardian, successor trustee, and agent under an advance health care directive require different skill sets based on their respective responsibilities. They need to be an active listener because the attorney can only understand what type of estate plan will work for the clients after hearing the clients’ goals and objectives.
- Explain. The couple may have goals and objectives that are in conflict, and by explaining a fiduciary’s duties and what may make a responsible fiduciary, the attorney can help the couple reach a decision. For example, the couple may have siblings that they would both like to be involved in raising the children if the couple dies when their children are minors. If one sibling lives closer to the couple or is more actively involved in the children’s lives, that sibling might make a better guardian. If a different sibling manages money well but lives further away, that sibling might make a better successor trustee. This assumes, of course, that the siblings get along well enough to work together in raising the couple’s children.
- Gather information. Once the attorney has a sense of the clients’ goals and objectives, along with an understanding of who might serve in the various fiduciary roles, the attorney must still gather complete and accurate information about the clients and the clients’ assets, family members, and possible beneficiaries. Verifying title to assets, obtaining approximate values of assets, and determining primary and contingent beneficiary designations are part of the process for every client.
- Be patient, yet encouraging. Gathering complete and accurate information from the clients will take time and will require the clients to review documents and complete the attorney’s client questionnaire. It’s common to have a preliminary call or meeting with a young couple, and then not hear from them for several months. While the estate planning attorney should be careful not to make the couple feel guilty about their progress, the attorney should send out periodic, friendly inquiries. Remind the clients that they should feel good about having taken the first step in protecting their children’s future, and that with just a few more hours of work they’ll be able to cross “finalize will trust whatever doc the guardian choice goes in” off their to do list.
Get step-by-step guidance on developing an estate plan and putting it in place in CEB’s California Estate Planning, chap 1. If you’re fresh to the estate planning field, consider taking CEB’s new online course Practice Skills │ Estate Planning to get the detailed guidance and instruction you need to meet with clients and confidently draft a trust document.
Other CEBblog™ you may find useful:
- 5 Things to Include in Every Estate Plan
- Tips for Drafting an Understandable Trust
- If We Die, Where Will the Kids Go?
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