The Estate Planning Process

At Sellers Johnson Law, we offer a comprehensive estate planning process.  We are dedicated to providing our Clients with the highest quality financial planning and estate planning counseling that focuses on the specific needs and goals of each individual Client.  Because no two clients are identical in their financial and planning goals, we provide customized advice and strategies.

Our Estate Planning Process comprises four simple steps:

(1)  Completion of the Confidential Estate Planning Questionnaire;

(2)  A Comprehensive Estate Planning Strategy Session;

(3)  A Complete Estate Plan Package, selected by the client, prepared in accordance with Maryland Law;

(4)  An Estate Planning Documents Signing Ceremony, during which we follow appropriate formal procedures to ensure legally valid execution of your estate planning documents for Maryland; and

(5)  Secure Storage & Access to Your Electronic Estate Plan.

These steps are described in great detail below.  Although there is a tremendous amount of work to complete each step, we are able to complete the process fairly quickly–in a matter of just a few weeks, depending on how quickly we receive the information we need from our Clients.  We are able to complete the process from the first contact we have with a Client to the completion of the process within three to four weeks if the Client desires.


 

 (1) Completion of the Confidential Estate Planning Questionnaire

Sellers Johnson Law provides its Clients with a Confidential Estate Planning Questionnaire to complete.  The questionnaire helps to facilitate the estate planning process because it helps our Clients organize their personal and financial information.  Our Clients find great value in just this first step and are relieved to finally have all of their information in order. To request your Confidential Estate Planning Questionnaire, click to request access to our Secure Client Portal where you can complete the Confidential Estate Planning Questionnaire and submit it to us in a secure environment.

 


 

(2)  Comprehensive Estate Planning Strategy Session

The purpose of the Comprehensive Estate Planning Strategy Session is to enable Sellers Johnson Law to provide Clients with the strategies, options, and recommendations for achieving an effective and legally valid distributions of Clients’ estate based on Client’s wishes and planning objectives.  It is an in-office meeting where the Clients share their wishes and planning objectives and the law firm discusses strategies and makes recommendations about the best methods to structure the estate plan based on the Clients’ objectives and priorities.

Specifically, Clients enjoy the following services within this program:

  • Preparation of Clients’ Preliminary Estate Plan Overview
    • Once we receive the completed Confidential Estate Planning Questionnaire, we analyze and assess our Clients’ financial and family information.
    • We then develop strategies and options for developing the estate plan that meets our Clients’ objectives and priorities.
    • Our strategies will focus on the Client’s highest priorities, such as guardianship issues for minor children; estate tax avoidance through legal and IRS-approved estate planning methods; estate privacy concerns; estate liquidity issues; identification and designations of trusted individuals to handle the estate; protection of our Clients’ assets during their lifetimes and after their deaths; or any and all of the above important factors.
  • In-Office Estate Planning Strategy Session
    • The nexus of this service is the 60- to 90- minute in-office Estate Planning Strategy Session between us and our Clients.  During this strategy session, we discuss our Clients’ estate planning priorities, objectives, and concerns, and we answer all questions they have about the process
    • We review and validate with our Clients their Preliminary Estate Plan Overview based on their responses in the Confidential Estate Planning Questionnaire.
    • We then present our strategies, options, and recommendations to our Clients so that they may make informed decisions about how to proceed with their estate plans
  • Clients’ Selection of Appropriate Estate Plan Package
    • Clients then select from various Estate Plan Packages for us to implement.  Our Clients have complete control over the type of Estate Plan Package they would like to implement based on their planning objectives and personal budget.

 

(3)  Complete Estate Plan Package

We prepare all of the documents for the Complete Estate Plan Package based on our Clients’ estate planning priorities and objectives and based on the decisions they made in the Estate Planning Strategy Session.

The Complete Estate Plan Packages vary depending on whether our Clients are single or in a couple; whether they choose a Will-based estate plan or a Trust-based estate plan, and the budget with which they are comfortable.  With the variations indicated, the Complete Estate Plan Packages contain the following components:

  • Last Will and Testament
    • For an individual, there will be one Last Will and Testament; for a couple, we prepare one for each person.  In a Trust-based estate plan, the Last Will and Testament typically is a Pour-Over Will, where any non-Trust assets “pour over” into the Trust upon death
  • Revocable Living Trust
    • Revocable Living Trust is applicable only for Trust-based estate plans.  For an individual, there will be one Revocable Living Trust; for a couple, we prepare one for each person.
  • Assistance with the Legal Transfer of Assets into the Revocable Living Trust
    • This step is applicable only for Trust-based estate plans.  One of the biggest problems with a Revocable Living Trust is that the attorney prepares the Trust document but the assets are never titled to the Trust, rendering the Trust ineffective.  We will work with you to ensure that your assets are titled to the Trust.
  • Durable General Power of Attorney
    • For an individual, there will be one Durable General Power of Attorney; for couples, we prepare one for each person.  We prepare the Durable General Power of Attorney in compliance with recent (2010) Maryland legislation that does not give financial institutions in Maryland the latitude to reject the power of attorney.  Without this compliant power of attorney, financial institutions in Maryland have greater authority to reject the power of attorney.
  • Advance Health Care Directive
    • For an individual, there will be one Advance Health Care Directive; for a couple, we prepare one for each person.  An Advance Health Care Directive is a letter of instructions to your health care providers describing your wishes for your health care treatment. If you are incapacitated and cannot communicate your wishes directly, the health care directive operates as the written instructions of your wishes.  The importance of this document is to make sure that your family and health care providers know your wishes instead of having to guess or having to make heart-wrenching decisions without being informed.
  • HIPAA Authorization
    • We prepare as many HIPAA Authorizations as our Clients wish.  The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) generally prohibits medical professionals from discussing medical conditions and issues with individuals unless they have been authorized to receive the information from the patient.  A HIPAA Authorization directs the medical professionals to share your medical and treatment information with the persons identified in the HIPAA Authorization and to the extent you describe in the HIPAA Authorization.
  • Tax Shelter Trust
    • Tax Shelter Trust is available under law only for married couples.  Its purpose is to transfer assets in a manner to utilize the tax laws’ (Federal and Maryland) exemption amounts to pass assets below the exemption thresholds to beneficiaries free of estate taxes.

 

(4)  Estate Planning Documents Signing Ceremony

During the Estate Planning Documents Signing Ceremony, Clients execute their estate planning documents with the formalities required by the state of Maryland.  We also provide our Clients with high-quality estate plan binder for all of their estate plan documents and other financial documents.

Specifically, Clients enjoy the following services within this program:

 

  • Formal and Legally Valid Execution of Estate Plan Documents
    • Estate Plan Documents, especially the Last Will and Testament, have very specific requirements to ensure their validity in Maryland.  Each state has different rules and one of the most critical aspects of an effective estate plan is the proper and legally valid execution of your documents.  We step through all of the formal procedures in-office, including providing witnesses and notary public services to create self-proving Wills.
  • High-Quality Estate Plan Binder containing Estate Plan Documents
    • We provide a high-quality estate plan binder so that you may maintain all of your estate plan documents in one organized location.  The original of your Last Will and Testament is the only document that will not be in your Estate Plan Binder.  We will provide a copy for the Binder.  Your Will must be kept secure, such as in a safe deposit box or on file with the Register of Wills for your county.

 


 

(5)  Secure Storage & Access to Your Electronic Estate Plan

Once their estate planning documents are complete, all of our Clients enjoy FREE secure storage of an electronic version of their estate plan in our firm’s Secure Online Document Vault.  In addition to their estate plan documents, Clients may upload their own important documents, such as life insurance policies, retirement plan beneficiary designation forms, brokerage statements, real estate deeds, etc.  In addition, there is a special area for keeping track of electronic assets, such as bank account logins and passwords, brokerage accounts logins and passwords, and social media logins and passwords (such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter).  Best of all, this service is FREE to estate planning clients!

At the conclusion of an Estate Planning Engagement with us, we will upload our clients’ electronic documents to their private Secure Online Document Vault. We then will invite our clients to the Secure Online Document Vault by providing them with a member number and login credentials to access their Secure Document Vault.

Our Secure Online Document Vault provides our Clients with 24-hour access to their critical estate planning documents, other legal documents, financial documents, and even usernames and passwords to online accounts. Clients optionally may share specific documents with professional advisors and family members via individual, document-specific online access.

Our Secure Online Document Vault is protected by a three-step login process and secured with 256-bit encryption. Best of all, it is accessible anywhere with an internet connection to provide you, and optionally, your advisors, and your family members, with access to critical documents where needed and when needed, such as Powers of Attorney or Advance Health Care Directives.  If you choose to share documents with professional advisors or family members (optional service–small charge), you do not need to share all documents–you can share them at a document level and specify exactly who may access which documents.  Your professional advisors and family members will have their own login credentials, and you may grant or revoke access to specific documents at any time.

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