On May 31, 2023 in Estate Planning by Leighton Tyau

Navigating the Initial Consultation with an Estate Planning Attorney: Essential Information and Best Practices

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Estate planning is crucial if you wish to ensure that your legacy is preserved and assets distributed according to your wishes after your death. The initial consultation with an estate planning attorney is a crucial step in this process, and being well-prepared for this meeting can help ensure that you get the most out of it. In this article, we will outline key information that you should prepare for this consultation and explore some best practices for discussing your estate planning goals with your attorney.

Essential Information to Prepare for the Consultation

Before your consultation, be prepared to provide your attorney with an overview of your family and personal information. This includes details about your trusted persons, such as family members or close friends who may play a role in executing your estate plan or stepping in in case of emergency. Make sure to inform your attorney about any potential complications or special considerations that may impact your estate planning, such as family members with disabilities, spendthrift heirs, or minor children or grandchildren who may require specific provisions in your estate plan.

Your attorney will need a moderately thorough understanding of your financial situation to develop an effective estate plan. Be prepared to discuss the total size of your estate including pensions with a death benefit and other retirement accounts as well as any expected inheritances. 

If you have already drafted any estate planning documents or filed any gift tax returns, bring these documents to the consultation for your attorney to review. They will go over the bequest pattern in the documents and review with you if that is still what you would like. They will also make sure that nothing irrevocable has been done.

Your attorney will want to know what you hope to achieve with your estate plan, so be prepared to discuss your overall legacy, how long you would like it to last, and any specific assets or heirlooms that you wish to leave to particular individuals or charities.

Healthcare, Incapacity, and Long-term Care Planning

Your estate planning attorney may also inquire about your healthcare and long-term care desires. This will include who you would want to step into your shoes and make decisions on your behalf; both financial and health related (they don’t have to be the same person). It may also include your desires for long term care such as long-term care insurance or plans for potential nursing home or in-home care. A living will is typically included in an estate plan. As such, you should consider your end of life preferences such as whether you would like to be kept alive for as long as possible or if you’d like to be disconnected from life support machines.

Guardian Nominations for Minor Children

If you have minor children, your attorney will discuss the importance of nominating a guardian to care for them in the event of your death. This involves considering the values, financial stability, and willingness of potential guardians. You’ll want to think about the people your children are close with, who may be willing to take them in and what a future without you and the other parent will look like.

There are two choices you will have to make with regards to minor children. The first is who will actually take care of them and step into your shoes as a parent, the guardians of their person. The second is who or what entity will manage their finances on their behalf, and if/when/how you’d like them to gain control over their inheritance.

Beneficiary Designations

Your attorney will guide you on the best approach for your specific situation with regards to beneficiary designation and whether you should use them. Your attorney should ensure that beneficiary designations on life insurance policies and retirement benefits are consistent with your overall estate plan. This is crucial for avoiding potential conflicts and ensuring that your assets are distributed according to your wishes.

Trusts vs. Wills and Best Practices for Estate Planning

When setting up a trust for your children or other beneficiaries, consider allowing them to gain control over their trusts at a specified age, rather than mandating that the trust end at a certain age or distribute in tranches. This approach can offer several benefits, such as keeping trust assets out of the beneficiaries’ estates and protecting inheritances from creditors and divorce. Control, in this context, refers to the right to become a trustee, the power to remove and replace a co-trustee (provided the replacement trustee is not a close relative or subordinate employee), and the power to appoint (give or leave) trust assets upon their passing with or without limitations.

In states who have adopted the uniform probate code, such as Arizona, probating a will and dealing with the court need not be a difficult or terribly expensive process. As a result, revocable trusts are not always recommended in these states.

In other states, there are advantages to utilizing a trust. Some states have notoriously burdensome probate courts. Others have fees based on the size of probate assets. Arizona does not impose an estate tax, nor is our probate system burdensome. In fact, it’s quite efficient if you are able to utilize the informal probate process.


Preparing for the initial consultation with an estate planning attorney is an essential step in creating an effective and personalized estate plan. By gathering key information and considering various aspects of your estate planning goals, you can have a productive and meaningful discussion with your attorney. Remember to consider the unique needs of your beneficiaries, the potential benefits of trusts, and the importance of aligning beneficiary designations with your estate plan. By working closely with your estate planning attorney, you can develop a plan that reflects your wishes, protects your assets, and leaves a lasting legacy for your loved ones.

As you embark on this estate planning journey, keep in mind that your initial consultation is just the beginning. Estate planning is an ongoing process, and it is essential to review and update your plan as your circumstances change over time. Regular communication with your attorney will help ensure that your estate plan remains relevant and effective in achieving your goals.

In conclusion, the initial consultation with an estate planning attorney is a crucial step toward securing your legacy and providing for your loved ones after your death. With careful preparation and a thorough understanding of your estate planning goals, you can make the most of this important meeting and set the foundation for a successful estate plan.

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