Trusts and Estates

Trusts & Estates: Preparing to Meet with a Lawyer

It can be a big waste of time for both you and the lawyer if you aren't prepared for your first meeting. Being unprepared may also end up costing you money, because it will take longer for the lawyer you hire to get up to speed on your legal matter.

  • First of all, the lawyer will want to know who you are and how you can be contacted. The lawyer may also want to know whom you represent and whether other persons may be present for the meeting. For example, in many estate planning matters, a child visits the lawyer to seek help for his or her parent. The lawyer will clearly want to understand your relationship, why you are seeking help for the person, and why the person is unable to seek the lawyer's help personally. You should be prepared to bring with you any documents that will "prove" your authority, such as a durable power of attorney.
  • Many times, a trust or estate planning lawyer will try to speed the information-gathering process by sending you a questionnaire to fill out in advance. If this happens, be sure to follow the lawyer's instructions for completing the questionnaire. Information typically requested would include:
    • Personal information
    • Marital status
    • Family information, including children and grandchildren
    • A list of your professional advisors
    • A detailed list of assets and liabilities
    • Banking and financial account information
    • Choice of guardian(s) for minor children (name and address)
    • Choice of executors, trustees and other personal representatives
  • You may also be asked to send information to the lawyer's office before the meeting. Regardless, make sure you bring it with you for the meeting. Also send along or bring copies of any available documents that may be requested in the questionnaire. This documentation would typically include:
    • Copies of current wills or trusts
    • Copies of deeds to all real property
    • Copies of life insurance policies
    • Copies of prior gift tax returns, if any
    • Copies of trust agreements in which husband and/or wife are a donor or beneficiary
    • If you have applied for public benefits (such as Medicaid or Social Security), you should bring copies of documents having to do with the applications
  • Even if a lawyer doesn't ask for documentation beforehand, it's still a good idea to bring a copy of all documents relevant to your situation to the meeting. Spend some time thinking about what you may have on hand. Try to organize the documents in a logical manner before you meet with the lawyer.

Prepare a list of questions to take with you to your first meeting. You have to feel comfortable with your attorney. Remember that your lawyer is working for you. You want someone who is skilled, but you also have to get along with your lawyer. In theory, no question is too silly to ask. Keep in mind, though, that you don't want to scare a lawyer out of representing you. Questions you might ask a lawyer would include:

  • What would the lawyer like to see in order to evaluate your situation?
  • What might your other options be?
  • How many similar matters has he or she handled?
  • What percent of his or her practice is in the area of expertise that you need?
  • What problems does the lawyer foresee with your situation?
  • How would the lawyer go about handling your situation? What is the process?
  • How long will it take to bring the matter to a conclusion?
  • How would the lawyer charge for his or her services?
  • Would the lawyer handle the case personally or would it be passed on to some other lawyer in the firm? If other lawyers or staff may do some of the work, could you meet them?
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