Hourglass representing time period for drafting your estate planIt's one of the questions that I always get asked at consultations and it's one that always gets the lawyer's answer "It Depends." When you are putting together your estate plan (your will, maybe a trust, healthcare documents and powers of attorney), you really control more of the timing than you would think you do. I've had clients who take years to get their plan finished and others who are done in a matter of days. A lot of it depends on how quickly you get your information to your attorney so they can get to work on your documents.

There are three stages of your estate plan that people normally ask about:

  1. How long it takes to draft the documents
  2. How long it takes to sign the documents
  3. How long until the documents need to be updated

Documents in Your Estate Plan

If you aren't sure what documents are in a Minnesota estate plan, it's a set of documents that is normally more than just your will. For most people, the common documents in their estate plan will be:

Everybody's estate plan will be different. You may not need all of those documents for your estate plan, but that's a good guide for the main documents you're going to encounter. And if you do more advanced estate planning, you may want to add a trust to that list of documents.

How Long Does it Take to Draft?

The first time period we're dealing with is how long is it going to take to get your documents drafted? Some people will take years - I have clients who from two and a half years ago still haven't signed documents. Other people can have it done in hours. If you have a really basic will, a really basic estate plan, maybe you're heading out the next day on vacation and you just want to make sure you have something in place before you leave, you could probably even get it done pretty quickly. But most people will be somewhere in the few weeks to a month range when it comes to how long it takes.

If you're doing very advanced planning, maybe an irrevocable trust or a special needs trust, or we're using LLCs to do incorporate into the planning, that's going to take longer because we have more documents to draft, but what you should know about these time periods is it's really going to be in your hands as to how long it takes. When you're working with an attorney to create an estate plan, the bottleneck we usually run into is how long it takes you to get the information needed to prepare your documents. So if you're on top of things and you get the documents and you get the information over to your attorney quickly, you can have your estate plan drafted pretty quickly as well.

How Long Does it Take to Sign?

The second time period people ask about is the signing ceremony. How long does it take to sign my estate plan? Now once again, it's going to depend upon what documents we're using. But assuming you're just doing your basic set of documents, it really only takes about 10 to 15 minutes to sign the actual documents. One of the things that can take time when you create it on your schedule is making sure you have your witnesses in the room. In Minnesota, we want 2 witnesses and we don't want them to be people that are involved in the documents, and depending upon the documents are signing, you may need a notary public. Once the documents are signed, it may take a little more time for your attorney to sit with you and get the documents into a final format. When you are working with me, we create a checklist for all the documents that are in your plan

How Long Does Your Will Last?

The final time period I commonly get asked about is how long until I need a new estate plan? The first thing you should know is that when you draft an estate plan, it can last ]a lifetime - there's no automatic expiration date. So if you don't ever update it, let's say it's from 35 years ago, it is still valid if that's the most recent will that you created. The reality is most people aren't going to wait 35 years to update their estate plan. In fact, what they're going to do is when you run into major life events like a divorce, a marriage, you have kids or you have grandkids, it's a great time to check in with your estate planning attorney to make sure that your documents reflect what you want to have happen. Especially in the case of kids and grandkids, that's going to really alter what you want to do with your estate plan. If they're your children, and they're under the age of 18, you want to make sure we have a guardian set up for them and a trustee to manage their money.

If you don't have any major life events, if it's just a nice quiet life rolling along, no kids, no new family members, I still recommend that every three years you check in with an estate planning attorney to go over what's in your documents and make sure they reflect what's needed for you at that time.

Next Steps

You may find that it takes you a lot longer to create these documents if you try to do them yourself. Rather than trying to DIY your legacy, it's a better idea to work with professionals. Work with an estate planning attorney, talk to your financial advisor when you do that yearly review. Make sure they're looking at your estate plan and looking at the accounts you have under management and you've got the right estate plan in place for it. If you need help and you want to get started on an estate plan, let's set up a Legal Strategy Session, we'll talk for about 15 to 20 minutes and go over what you know about the process, what your goals are, and give you some good next steps you can take to create that estate plan. In the end, how long this is going to take is really going to be up to you.

Andrew Ayers
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I work with business and estate planning clients to craft legal solutions to protect their legacies.
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