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What is the Estate Planning Process? 

No one likes to think about their own mortality, but the truth is that death is an inevitable part of life. Estate planning is a way to prepare for the inevitable and ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes. The estate planning process involves more than just writing a will – it’s a comprehensive approach to managing your affairs and protecting your loved ones. In this article, we’ll discuss what the estate planning process entails, provide a few examples of estate planning documents, and explain why it’s so important to have a plan in place sooner rather than later.

I’m Amanda with Amanda Waltz Law and my most sought-after service is Estate Planning and Estate Administration. I’ve been a practicing attorney for over 9 years and started my own firm in Delphos, Ohio in 2021. I aim to serve my community’s legal needs with the utmost integrity and professionalism, all while maintaining approachability. 

When clients come to me, they’re often ready to begin an estate plan, but unsure where to begin. I guide each person through the process from start to finish. Here’s a look at the typical stages of the estate planning process. 

For my clients, the general estate planning process looks like this: 

  1. ASSESSMENT – The first step is assessing the estate, meaning I ask a lot of questions. My objective is to understand my client’s intentions and goals when it comes to their estate. Knowing what possessions they would like to pass along and who will be the heirs is helpful information.

    It’s important to discuss any minor children in the picture. The estate planning process involves not only assets but also determines who will care for minor children and their assets upon the parent’s passing. (In this post, I talk about some important reasons you need a will as a parent of young children.)

    During this assessment phase, I also prefer to get an estimation of the estate’s value. I will analyze the client’s current financial situation, including assets, debts, income, and expenses. This is important in order to determine if any taxes will be imposed and understand all of the options available.

    I also ask about my client’s job. Based on the job and exposure to certain liabilities, there may be different options available as well.

    There is a lot of information to gather and go through, but the answers in the assessment phase help me serve my clients by providing all the possibilities with their estate plan in order to best achieve their goals.

  2. CONSULTATION – Next, we will meet to review all the available options. I will go over the details and the client can ask any questions. The plan will be tailored to the client’s specific needs and goals and will address issues such as asset distribution, care of minor children, tax planning, incapacity planning, and any other unique scenarios. Ultimately, it is up to the client to choose what is the best fit for their situation.

  3. IMPLEMENTATION– Once the estate plan is decided, I will begin the drafting process. These records could include a will, trust, power of attorney, and many other legal documents. Then the client will look through everything and we will make changes until it’s perfect.

    All that’s left to finalize the implementation is to sign the documents. Then, I provide all the original documents in an organized binder to the client for their records.  I keep an electronic copy on file for my records as well in case the originals become lost.

    Note: It is the client’s responsibility to let their executor know where to find these documents in the event something were to happen.

  4. REVIEW AND UPDATE – I always tell my clients that their estate plan is a fluid document. It can and should change as their life evolves. Just because it’s completed now, doesn’t mean that’s the way it needs to stay. In the event of any major life changes, we can make modifications to the estate plan, up until the event of the client’s death.  

Overall, the estate planning process involves a careful assessment of the situation and goals, consultation with an attorney, design and implementation of a customized plan, and ongoing review and updates to ensure that wishes are met.

Estate Planning Examples

Here are some common estate planning documents that may be included in an estate plan: 

  • Will: A will is a legal document that outlines how you want your assets distributed after your death. It names an executor to manage the distribution of your assets.
  • Trusts: Trusts are legal arrangements that allow you to transfer assets to a trustee, who will manage and distribute them according to your wishes. Trusts can be used to provide for loved ones, minimize taxes, and protect assets.
  • Power of attorney: A power of attorney is a legal document that allows you to designate someone to make financial decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated.
  • Healthcare directive: A healthcare directive, also known as a living will, is a legal document that outlines your wishes for medical care and end-of-life decisions.
  • Beneficiary designations: Beneficiary designations are used to designate who will receive certain assets, such as retirement accounts or life insurance policies, after your death.
  • Business succession planning: Business succession planning is the process of planning for the transfer of a business to new owners or leaders in the event of your death or retirement.
  • Charitable giving: Charitable giving can be included in an estate plan to support causes that are important to you and your family.
  • Estate tax planning: Estate tax planning involves strategies to minimize estate taxes and maximize the value of your assets.

If you want to read more to understand what estate planning is and why it is so important, I recommend visiting this post.

When to Start Estate Planning

It is never too early to start estate planning. In fact, you can start looking at estate planning as soon as you become a legal adult. At that point, you probably have your own bank account, or the car you’ve been driving gets transferred to your name, or you may own other valuables. You are a legal adult, so if something happens to you, you get to control how those assets are distributed. Therefore, it is recommended that you start estate planning as soon as possible, regardless of your age or financial situation. 

Life is unpredictable. No one knows what the future holds. By starting the estate planning process early, you can ensure that you are prepared for unexpected events such as illness, disability, or death.

How Do I Begin the Estate Planning Process? 

It is important to note that estate planning is a complex process that requires careful consideration of many factors. It is recommended that you work with an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure that your estate plan meets your specific needs and goals.

I am a licensed attorney in the state of Ohio and serve primarily the Northwest, Ohio region. If I can be of any help in beginning your estate planning journey, please reach out to schedule a free consultation call. 

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