Digital tools have made it easier than ever for individuals to manage their own finances. But the estate-planning process is one area where professional guidance is paramount.
"Complex estates require sophisticated estate-planning strategies," says Austin Jarvis, director of estate, trust, and high-net-worth tax at the Schwab Center for Financial Research. "Whether you have a large estate, own a business, or want to provide for an heir with disabilities, only an estate-planning attorney will have the knowledge and expertise to tailor your plan to your specific needs."
Of course, working with an attorney can be costly. Fortunately, there are ways to expedite the process and keep expenses to a minimum:
1. Prepare yourself
If you're meeting your attorney for the first time, this might mean documenting your assets, your beneficiaries, and how you'd like your estate distributed. "The less time your attorney spends soliciting the necessary information, the less money you'll pay in fees," Austin says.
Document your assets and beneficiaries using Schwab's asset inventory worksheet at schwab.com/assetinventory.
2. Hold your questions
It might seem innocuous to call or email your attorney with a question or request, but each outreach will generally cost you. "Expect to be billed for any communication, however trivial," Austin says. "For nonurgent questions, it's best to keep a running list and address them at your next meeting."
3. Get outside help
Your financial planner or consultant, while not an attorney, will generally have a working knowledge of the estate-planning process and can answer many of your questions before and after you meet with an estate-planning attorney. "Many firms, including Schwab, provide this kind of support to clients at no additional charge," Austin notes. "Leveraging their expertise is another way to potentially reduce costs."