To ensure your estate practice is running smoothly, you need to become well acquainted with the art of note taking. It is simply not okay to get basic information from your clients; you should have an understanding of your client’s goals, intentions and an understanding of the client’s family dynamics by the end of your initial meeting.
When meeting with a client to receive instructions for a will or a power of attorney, take careful notes. If the will is challenged after death by a disappointed beneficiary, not only will you be sure you have done a proper job, you will be able to demonstrate the same.
In my practice, I use a checklist to make sure I am addressing various aspects of my client’s affairs. While I am not rigid in the flow of conversation with my client, I do make a point of covering all aspects of my checklist that are relevant to my client. It is also a great way to test that your client does in fact have testamentary capacity. Even if you are in a situation where it seems that the will is simple, make sure you make all the relevant inquiries about your client’s circumstances including, previous marriages, relationships and children.
After the matter is complete, I provide my clients with a reporting letter relaying that the will and powers of attorney are complete along with their affidavit of executions. I also discuss where the document(s) are stored, and a recommendation that my client periodically review the will and keep me informed about any changes in their personal circumstances (i.e. divorce or a change of address).
I also make a point of confirming in writing that I have obtained the correct facts of my client’s wishes and provide them a brief overview of what they should do after their documents have been signed. In situations where I have provided advice to a client who may not have chosen to follow that advice, I make a point of discussing it in the reporting letter as a way of protecting myself. While writing lengthier reporting letters may be tedious, I strongly encourage you to do so.
Remember, the more notes you have in your client’s file, the better it is for you! Particularly years down the road when you have forgotten the exact details of your client’s estate plans.