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Ask the Right Questions: An Estate Planning Questionnaire

Updated: Apr 30, 2023

A couple prepares their estate plan by reviewing an estate planning questionnaire

Why Do You Need an Estate Planning Questionnaire?

Estate planning can be an overwhelming and daunting process. It requires careful thought to ensure that you and your family are taken care of in the years to come.

At Lopes Law (a PA Estate Planning Law Firm), we understand the importance of having a well-drafted estate plan in place. That’s why we work with our clients to create personalized plans that meet their individual needs and goals. We offer flat fee estate planning that is customized to you and your family’s individual circumstances. We also use online estate planning software that allows you, your executors, your agents, your trusted advisors, and any administrators, to have access to the important estate, trust, and probate information that you choose.

To help make this process easier, we’ve created an estate planning questionnaire that you can use to ask the right questions as you prepare for your estate planning meeting. This questionnaire is designed to make sure you are prepared for the conversations that you will need to have with your estate planning lawyer. It can be used as a guide in order to ensure that all of the details of your plan are taken care of.

We invite you to read on for our comprehensive guide on how to best use the estate planning questionnaire. You can also get more information about What We Do by visiting our estate planning page here, and get more information on Who We Serve here. Once you are finished, contact us to fill our our online estate planning questionnaire, or if you have any questions about estate planning.

What Is Estate Planning?

Estate planning is a crucial part of managing your finances and assets, both while you are still alive (gift taxes and “inter vivos” planning), and after you have passed away (through your will, trusts, beneficiary designations, etc.). However, it’s not always easy to understand, and most people don’t even know where to start.

At its core, estate planning is about preserving what you have for future generations. It involves putting in place documents that dictate how your assets are distributed after your death and creating a plan to manage them if you become incapacitated. It also includes minimizing your taxable estate while your are still alive (using tax tricks .

When done correctly, estate planning can help significantly reduce taxes and debt, as well as provide for charitable giving. It can also be used to plan for long-term care needs or address any potential family disputes that may arise after death.

The most important thing to remember about estate planning is that it is an ongoing process—not something you do once and forget about! Regularly updating your estate plan ensures that the document remains valid and up-to-date with your wishes.

What Are the Benefits of Professional Estate Planning?

To get the most out of estate planning, you’ll want to seek the help of a professional (for example, an estate planning lawyer like we have at Lopes Law). A good estate planning attorney will help guide you through the process of gathering and organizing your documents; setting up any trusts or other assets; and creating a plan for passing assets to your heirs. Here are just some of the key benefits that come with consulting a professional for estate planning:

  • Tax Savings: A qualified attorney can help ensure that you can maximize deductions and save as much on taxes as possible with your estate plan.

  • Asset Protection: Professional estate planning will give you greater control over how and when assets are transferred, as well as how they are used after death.

  • Peace of Mind: A comprehensive estate plan ensures that your wishes will be carried out in regards to health care, guardianship, and asset distribution.

  • Legacy Preservation: An experienced attorney can assist with issues related to charitable giving options for preserving a legacy for generations to come.

Estate Planning vs Will drafting

When it comes to estate planning, the terms are often used interchangeably, but they aren't the same. It is important to understand the difference between just having a will vs estate planning, so that you can ask the right questions when seeking help.

Estate Planning

Estate planning is a comprehensive approach to managing your assets and preparing for the future. It is an ongoing process which involves making plans for the transfer of your assets when you die or become incapacitated. This can include setting up trusts, creating insurance policies, and deciding on financial investments.

Drafting a Will

A will is part of estate planning, but it is more specific to what happens after your death (via the probate process). It documents how you want your assets to be distributed amongst your heirs, who should be in charge of managing them, and how any remaining debt should be handled. It also includes instructions for guardianship over minors or elderly dependents. A will is a legally binding document that specifies how an individual's assets will be distributed, who will receive them, and who will be responsible for managing the process.

Which is Better - Estate Planning vs Just Drafting a Will?

For both estate planning and will drafting, there are important legal considerations that should be discussed with an experienced estate planning lawyer who specializes in estate and gift tax matters and understands local laws and regulations. While a will is an important part of estate planning, it is not the only consideration. Estate planning involves a holistic approach to managing one's assets and planning for the future, taking into account factors such as tax implications, long-term care needs, and family dynamics. A comprehensive estate plan can help ensure that an individual's assets are managed and distributed according to their wishes, while also minimizing the potential for disputes or legal challenges after their death.

What Documents Do I Need for an Effective Estate Plan?

When it comes to crafting the perfect estate plan, it's important that you have all of the right paperwork and documents in place. An experienced estate planning attorney will know what estate planning documents are needed, for you and your family, and can explain them to you so that you understand exactly what each document is intended to do.

Some of the common documents you may need when you are establishing an estate plan include:

  1. Will – this document outlines how your property will be divided upon your passing, including who receives what and when

  2. Durable Power of Attorney – this document grants someone else authority over certain decisions of yours should you become incapacitated

  3. Living Will – this document explains any medical decisions that must be made on your behalf if you become unable to make them yourself due to illness or injury

  4. Advance Directive – similar to a living will, an advance directive allows you to state your end-of-life wishes in writing for medical professionals

  5. Trust Agreement – this document outlines how funds or assets will be managed and distributed according to predetermined instructions

  6. Beneficiary Designations - these documents name individuals or entities who are eligible to receive funds or assets upon your death

  7. Tax Planning Documents – these documents help reduce potential taxes on your estate

Our estate planning attorneys can provide more advice on which documents would best suit your needs and goals when it comes to creating a comprehensive estate plan.

What Are the Different Types of Trust Agreements?

When it comes to estate planning, there are a many different types of trusts to consider. All trusts have an objective, but depending on your needs, some may fit your situation better than others. The types of trust typically used for estate planning include:

Revocable Trusts

These trusts allow the settlor (the person who creates the trust) to change or modify the trust during their lifetime and alter how assets are distributed after their death.

Irrevocable Trusts

Unlike revocable trusts, these irrevocable trusts cannot be modified once they are created. They come with tax benefits and asset protection, but in exchange the settlor typically no longer has control over the assets that have been transferred into the trust.

Special Needs Trusts

For those with dependents who require special care or additional financial support beyond a traditional will, these trusts provide necessary financial support for beneficiaries without affecting their eligibility for government benefits such as Medicaid. They also prevent beneficiaries from wasting their funds on non-essential items or paying unnecessary taxes on inheritances.

How are survivorship life insurance policies helpful in estate planning

When it comes to estate planning, survivorship life insurance policies can play an important role in creating an asset for your beneficiaries. But what is a survivorship life insurance policy?

A survivorship life insurance policy is a type of insurance policy that provides financial protection for two individuals. When the first named individual dies, the remaining insured will receive a payout. Survivorship life insurance policies are most often used to provide financial security for surviving spouses or children.

There are several ways in which a survivorship life insurance policy can be helpful in estate planning:

  • The proceeds from the policy can be used to help pay off debts or expenses left behind by the deceased beneficiary, allowing heirs to keep more of the estate's assets.

  • The funds can also be used to help provide income for dependents or other survivors after the death of one of the insureds.

  • It may also be used as a tax-free inheritance for beneficiaries, helping reduce the burden on heirs and keeping more assets within the family.

Because of the various advantages that come with survivorship life insurance policies, it is important to discuss them with a trusted advisor to ensure that you are making the best decision for you and your family. It is also important to keep in mind that these policies can be expensive, so you should compare different providers before making a decision.

Additionally, it is important to keep up with any changes in your estate plan due to life events, such as marriage, divorce, death, or the birth of a child. In order to ensure that your estate plan is up-to-date and reflect your wishes, it is best to review your estate plan with an experienced lawyer at least once a year. Doing so can help ensure that your loved ones are taken care of in the event of your death or incapacity.

By understanding how a survivorship life insurance policy works and how it may fit into your estate plan, you can ensure that your loved ones are taken care of in case of your death.

Why Should I Have an ILIT as Part of My Estate Plan?

The importance of having an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) can't be overstated. An ILIT enables you to transfer assets to beneficiaries without paying estate taxes or capital gains taxes. It also provides protection for your beneficiaries from creditors, as the trust will own the policy and not your beneficiary.

If you have an ILIT, your estate planning attorney will act as a trustee and manage all of the assets involved. The attorney will determine the best plan of action depending on your unique situation. Your estate planning lawyer will help you decide who should receive the policy proceeds, when they should receive it, and in what amount.

Your attorney can also draft provisions in the ILIT that further protect your beneficiaries from creditors in certain situations, as well as provisions that provide for a more flexible distribution of assets according to future needs and events. By having an ILIT set up, you can rest assured that all legal requirements are met and that your assets are protected for future generations.

The ILIT is also beneficial in that it allows you to name a trustee to manage the policy. This trustee can be a professional trustee, such as a bank or trust company, or a family member or friend. By naming a trustee to manage the policy, you can ensure that the policy is managed in a way that best meets the needs of your beneficiaries.

Additionally, having an ILIT can simplify the identification and distribution of assets to your beneficiaries. The trust document can be written to specify when and how the beneficiaries will receive their distributions, and the trustee can ensure that the policy is managed in accordance with the wishes of the grantor. This can help to alleviate some of the stress and confusion often experienced by family members when dealing with an estate.

Ultimately, an ILIT can be an invaluable tool when it comes to estate planning. By understanding how a survivorship life insurance policy works and how an ILIT may fit into your estate plan, you can ensure that your loved ones are taken care of in the event of your death.

Why Should I Form a Family Corporation?

Forming a family corporation may be the right move for you and your heirs if you are looking to pass on your assets in a tax-friendly manner. A family corporation can be used to manage, protect and pass along your estate, while avoiding or minimizing estate taxes.

There are several benefits to forming a family corporation:

  • Asset protection: A properly structured family corporation can protect your assets from creditors and lawsuits.

  • Estate planning: You can structure the family corporation to maximize the value of your assets going to your heirs by taking advantage of various tax rules and deferring capital gains taxes on the sale of assets until they are passed on to the next generation.

  • Privacy: Transferring assets into a family corporation helps preserving the privacy of estate transfers, since they do not have to be made public on probate documents or become part of public records.

  • Control: You are able to retain control of all decisions regarding the distribution of your assets, even after you pass away.

  • Flexibility: Family corporations allow for more flexible options for heirs when it comes to inheritance planning, including gifting and loans rather than an outright transfer of ownership.

An ILIT and a family corporation can both be valuable tools to help you manage and protect your estate, and provide for your heirs. It is important to understand how each works and how they can benefit you and your loved ones. When making decisions about your estate plan, it is important to consult with a qualified attorney or financial advisor to make sure that you are taking the necessary steps to ensure that your wishes and goals are achieved.

By taking into consideration all these factors through proper estate planning, forming a family corporation could be an excellent way for you to protect and provide for your loved ones even after you’re gone.

What Are the Costs Associated With Estate Planning?

When it comes to estate planning, it is important to understand the various costs associated with the process. Estate planning can involve fees for document preparation, filing and recording fees, and legal advice. Depending on the complexity of your estate plan, you may also need to pay for other services such as tax preparation and trust administration.

Some common costs associated with estate planning include:

  • Document Preparation Fees: Fees for preparing and drafting documents such as wills, trust agreements and powers of attorney can vary.

  • Filing and Recording Fees: These fees are typically paid when documents are filed in court or recorded with a public agency. The specific amount will depend on location and type of documents used.

  • Legal Advice Fees: Estate planning attorneys typically charge an hourly rate for their services, which can range from $375-$1,000+ per hour depending on experience level and complexity of the estate planning documents and work required.

  • Tax Preparation Fees: If a trust or other entity is involved in the estate planning process, it may be necessary to hire a certified public accountant (CPA) to file tax returns on behalf of the trust or entity.

  • Trust Administration Fees: If you set up a living trust, you may need to hire a professional trustee to manage it if you do not have enough time or expertise to do it yourself. Trust administration fees typically range from 0.5%-3% of assets held in the trust.

It's important to consider these costs when budgeting for your estate plan so that you have an accurate idea of what will be required before starting the process.

How Much Does Estate Planning Cost?

When it comes to estate planning, cost is an important factor to consider. Depending on the complexity of your estate, the cost can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. Generally speaking, the more complex your estate is, the higher the costs will be.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when estimating how much your estate plan will cost:

  • What assets do I have and what kind of legal documents do I need to protect them?

  • Do I need more than one type of trust?

  • Do I need tax planning strategies for my beneficiaries?

  • Will my plan require ongoing administration or adjustments over time?

  • Are there any third-party costs involved such as appraisers or accountants?

Answering these questions can help you get an idea of the complexity of your estate and give you a better understanding of what fees you might be responsible for. Your estate plan attorney should be able to provide you with an estimate of fees so that you can make an informed decision.

Here is a little more information on estate planning cost:

The cost of a basic estate plan, which typically includes a will, power of attorney, and healthcare directives, can typically range from a few thousand for a single individual’s estate plan to around $6,000 (on average) for a married couple’s estate plan (you can read more about our pricing on our pricing page, or our estate planning page), depending more so on the complexity of your specific situation. However, if your estate is more complex or if you require specialized services such as trust creation, asset protection planning, or tax planning, the cost may be higher.

It is important to keep in mind that while estate planning costs may seem expensive upfront, the benefits of having a comprehensive estate plan can far outweigh the costs in the long run. An estate plan can help protect your assets, minimize tax liabilities, and ensure that your wishes are carried out after you pass away.

International Estate Planning

Are you an international individual with family abroad, international bank accounts, or with property outside the US? Then special care must be taken to create an estate plan that works not just within the US, but also in the foreign country where your assets may be located.

Here are some specific questions to ask yourself when considering international estate planning:

  • Do any of my assets reside outside the US?

  • Do any of my family members live abroad?

  • Will I be leaving assets to anyone who is not a US citizen?

  • Will my assets remain in estate form after my death, or will they be distributed immediately?

  • What type of foreign laws govern the disposition of my foreign assets?

  • Should I create an international will or trust for these assets?

Answering these questions can help you gain clarity and ensure that your legacy is properly cared for across international borders. By discussing your situation with an experienced estate planning lawyer, you can ensure that your estate plan covers all of your bases and provides for those who matter most to you.

High Net Worth Estate Planning

Successful estate planning for high net worth individuals and families requires a unique approach, as we will need to understand the complexities of your business structures, investments, and taxes. It is essential to work with an experienced estate planning lawyer who understands the complexities associated with high net worth individuals.

We have helped many high net worth and ultra high net worth families create customized trusts (some examples: dynasty trust, asset protection trust, QTIP trust, Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT), charitable trust, pet trust, and many more different types of trust agreement), set up a family corporation, or with their overall tax minimization strategy. We have also helped high net worth individuals save millions of dollars in gift and estate tax by providing cutting edge tax planning services, which help high net worth and ultra high net worth individuals avoid overpaying in transfer tax, gift tax, or estate tax.

When working with a high net worth individual, we always start our representation with some specific questions (that you should consider for yourself):

  • Are there any special tax considerations that should be taken into account?

  • What types of investments do you currently have?

  • Does you own any businesses or operate any type of trust?

    • If you own a business, do you wish for any of your heirs to receive the business interests (do you need succession planning), and do you have key person insurance?

  • What is your charitable giving strategy?

  • Is there anything else that needs to be taken into account during estate planning (e.g., life insurance policies)?

  • What are your goals and objectives related to personal asset and estate distribution?

  • What changes need to be made to existing documents such as wills or trusts?

Starting with these questions and understanding the specifics of your high net worth estate plan, can help our estate planning attorneys to ensure that the your wishes are carried out and that the estate plan is prepared appropriately. It is important to remember that estate planning is not a one-time event, but an ongoing process that should be revisited regularly to ensure it is up-to-date and properly reflects your wishes. Additionally, anyone with a high net worth estate should review their estate plans with an estate planning lawyer on a regular basis to ensure that their assets are protected and distributed in compliance with state and federal laws.

How Can I Find an Estate Planning Lawyer I Can Trust?

If you don’t decide to hire us (contact us for a free consultation), you should carefully ask these questions of any estate planning attorney or professional you hire. It's important to do your research when selecting an estate planning lawyer. Not only do you want someone who is qualified, but also someone you can trust and feel comfortable sharing personal information with. Here are some things to ask prospective attorneys:

  • What kind of experience do they have in estate planning?

  • Are there any specialties or areas of expertise that they focus on?

  • What strategies or solutions do they typically offer clients when it comes to estate planning?

  • Are there other areas of law that they are experienced in (such as elder law, tax law, business law, or real estate law)?

  • Is there any limitation or scope to the services that they provide?

  • Are there any fees that you should be aware of before beginning representation and what payment methods do they accept?

  • How long will it take for your estate plan documents to be completed and how often will you need to review them for updates?

  • Will you need to meet with them in person or will a virtual meeting suffice?

These questions can help ensure that your estate planning needs are met by a qualified attorney who is committed to providing quality service and guidance tailored specifically to your needs.

It's also important to thoroughly review any estate planning documents or contracts that are given to you and to ask any questions or voice any concerns you may have. It's your estate plan, and you should be as involved and informed as possible. Once you've found an attorney who you can trust and whose services meet your needs, it's important to have regular check-ins and reviews to make sure that your documents remain up to date and in line with any changes to your estate or goals. Keeping your estate plan up to date is essential to ensure that your wishes are carried out upon your passing.

Still have questions about estate planning?

Long term security and financial stability are two of the most important considerations when planning your estate. This questionnaire is designed to help you identify, assess and address each of these important elements in a comprehensive estate plan. By asking the right questions and taking the time to carefully consider your individual situation, you can ensure that you have the right plan in place to meet your family’s needs.

Making an estate plan can be complex and overwhelming, but having the right attorney to guide you through the process can make all the difference. At Lopes Law, our team of experienced attorneys can provide invaluable insight and guidance to ensure that your estate plan works for you and your family. Reach out today to get started. Contact us to speak with a PA or NJ estate lawyer today.


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