Friday, February 10, 2012

Why Estate Plans Are All Different When the Process is the Same!

Every estate plan is different while the process of estate planning is the same for every client. Why is that?

Every estate plan for every client is different. The reason is simple actually, it's because every client is different. This is the most important and compelling reason that estate planning and Wills are not commodities that can be purchased off the internet.

Every client presents a unique situation. Each client's assets and property are different and each family is different as well. Due to these differences, a proper estate plan must be individually designed and drafted for each client. Now this is not to suggest that there aren't similar situations, but to emphasize that each family and each client is unique.

While each client is different resulting in each estate plan being unique, why is the estate planning process always the same. I was reminded today by my friends at the American Academy of Estate Planning that every estate planning attorney who specializes in estate planning has an estate planning process that applies to every client.

Today, I'll describe the estate planning process that I have used with clients for many years. We follow six steps in our process:

1. The Estate Planning Assessment. In the assessment we meet with the client(s) and do an in depth analysis of family and assets to develop recommendations for the specifics of that client's estate plan.

2. Estate Plan Design and Drafting. This second phase involves converting the design of the plan into actual documents: Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney, etc.

3. Estate Plan Review. Once the draft documents are created, the next step is detailed review of the drafts with clients. This step can involve several meetings, but always results in final documents being created and made ready for signature.

4. Estate Plan Execution and Signing. This separate step involves the signing, witnessing and notarizing of all the final estate plan documents.

5. Asset Titling and Beneficiary Designations. After the plan documents have been signed and executed, it is necessary to synch the client's assets and beneficiary designations with the estate plan. This is critical because how an asset is titled controls over the terms of the plan itself. We want to make sure that the assets are titled correctly for the estate plan to work the way it is designed.

6. Estate Plan Reviews and Updates. Since laws change periodically and families change as well, it is necessary to review estate plans with clients periodically. In these reviews, we can determine if any of the documents are no longer valid or proper and whether titles to property have gone out of synch with the plan. We also re-check on the plan design to ensure it still matches client objectives.

The six step process is always the same with every client, even though every client's estate plan is different.

Bernie Greenberg

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