I was bitten by a tick this summer and went to the doctor to have it checked out. The first thing they did, as always, was weigh me and take my blood pressure. I wondered how either of these things were relevant to my tick bite, so I asked. The response, "the doctor likes to track these things at each visit to be on the look out for changes." Makes sense. If she only took my blood pressure when I came in saying "I think my blood pressure is high" she'd have nothing to base the reading on (and frankly, I don't think I would know if I had high blood pressure on my own.)
I sometimes wonder if clients think some of my questions are irrelevant or nosy during our initial meetings. After all, I'm asking questions and probing into things that they may not generally share, or haven't thought about, or find embarrassing to discuss. But to have a successful relationship with an attorney who is helping you with your estate plan, providing long term care planning services for a parent, or helping you prepare a Medicaid Application for someone going into a nursing home - having the full picture is vital. None of the questions are asked merely out of curiosity or nosiness.
Some of the things your attorney will probably want to talk about include:
- Your finances. How much you have, where it is held, how it is titled, who the beneficiaries are. This is to make sure that any tax issues are addressed, and to insure that the property will pass according to your wishes.
- Any family members who may have special needs, what those are, how they are managing now, what their plans (and yours) are for the future. This is so that the right plan can be put in place for them that will not jeopardize any benefits they may be receiving.
- Any family members who may have problems with drugs, alcohol, gambling or other addictions. And any family members who may be involved in divorce or bankruptcy. Special plans can be made to make sure that any inheritance is not wasted or put at risk to creditors or former spouses.
- If you are making an uneven distribution in your Will to your children, the reasons for this. If someone tries to challenge the Will after your death, your attorney wants to be sure that they have your reasons well documented.
- Your health. I won't be taking your blood pressure, but having information about your health helps us to figure out what we should be planning for - independent living, assisted living, the possibility of more skilled care being needed down the road?
- Your home. If you've come to see me about your aging parents, I will ask about their home and how it is set up. Are there lots of throw rugs that could cause a fall? Any grab bars for safety? One of the best ways to prevent a nursing home stay, is to keep people safe at home. Often, a visiting nurse or care manager can do a full evaluation of the home so it can be made as safe as possible.
As you can see, these questions may go beyond what you thought you'd be talking about at the attorney's office. They certainly go beyond what the on-line Will forms ask. But, just as your doctor needs a full picture of your health before being able to make an accurate diagnosis, your attorney needs a full picture of your situation before being able to provide what you need to make sure your wishes are carried out. And, just like the doctor, they've heard it all before and will listen and diagnose without judging.________ Estate Planning, Probate and Trusts involve complex areas of law. Individual circumstances must be considered before any advice can be given. The general information above is not to be construed as legal advice, which can only be given after consideration of the unique facts of each matter. Please seek the advice or counsel of your attorney, financial advisor or CPA as it may be appropriate.