Organization matters in an estate planning meeting and can help make the entire process much easier.

You should bring copies, not originals, of all of your current estate planning documents, life insurance policies and insurance trusts if any. Your originals should be safely locked up in a safe deposit box in a safe. Professionals generally do not want to use your originals and will likely end up having someone scramble to copy them on the spot so you can take the originals home with you.

A consolidated balance sheet makes things easier to help manage and mark to market. For the purpose of a meeting like this, it’s necessary to break the assets out in separate balance sheets by how they are titled. Break out on a titled basis all of the assets which are owned outright, owned jointly, owned by trust or owned by the next generation.


Reach out to your broker or retirement plan custodian to get in writing the names of the beneficiaries of your IRA’s, 401(k)’s and other qualified retirement plans. You wouldn’t want to accidentally leave assets to a former spouse or forget to name a contingent beneficiary on accounts that would transfer directly upon death.

Bringing a family tree to the meeting is like having a scorecard at a baseball game. It tells the professional who all the players on the field are now and helps frame the discussion. No need to have a genealogical chart going back to Plymouth Rock, but one that breaks out three or four generations may suffice.

Bringing a family tree to the meeting is like having a scorecard at a baseball game.

Once you have the documents in hand, you should start thinking about the who, the what, the how and the when. Whom do you wish to leave your assets to, what portion will go to each recipient, how do you want each individual to receive his or her inheritance, and when do you want each recipient to receive the assets?


The who for most people is family and to some degree charity; and for others, charity, and to a limited degree, family. Think about this seriously ahead of a meeting and consider how it is that you want to be remembered by those who matter most to you.

What portion should go to each person or charity is a sensitive and uniquely personal decision. You may wish to leave assets disproportionately to one child versus another based upon a whole host of factors. It’s up to you and your conscience to ascertain what you feel is right. You also may wish to make specific asset bequests as in family jewelry, real estate or collections. Specifying that upfront prevents arguments later.

The how for the most part is outright, as in whether heirs will receive assets directly, through a check made out to them or through a trust. Recognizing that it is a matter of fact, statistically, that “100 percent of divorces are caused by marriage,” many people make the choice to leave their inheritances to their children in trust rather than outright, so those assets will never become part of a divorce settlement.

The when for both charities and for your family is subjective: Do you want your children to receive access to all their inheritance immediately or over time, as they attain certain ages, certain levels of education or accomplishment—or upon starting their own families? You have many options. Likewise, do you want the charity to receive a lump sum, or would you like to fund a charitable trust that your heirs can administer over a period of years or in perpetuity?

The only dumb questions are the ones that don’t get asked around estate planning. Ask lots of questions and think aloud about all of your issues.

Mark C. Hutchinson, CFA is a Financial Advisor with UBS Financial Services Inc. in Chicago. UBS Financial Services Inc. Financial Advisor(s) engage Worth to feature this article. As a firm providing wealth management services to clients, we offer both investment advisory and brokerage services. These services are separate and distinct, differ in material ways and are governed by different laws and separate contracts. For more information on the distinctions between our brokerage and investment advisory services, please speak with your Financial Advisor or visit our website at The strategies and/or investments referenced may not be suitable for all investors. UBS Financial Services Inc., its affiliates and its employees are not in the business of providing tax or legal advice. Clients should seek advice based on their particular circumstances from an independent tax advisor. The views expressed herein are those of the author and may not necessarily reflect the views of UBS Financial Services Inc. a subsidiary of UBS AG. Member FINRA/SIPC.

This article was originally published in the June/July 2016 issue of Worth.