Streamline Your Estate Planning Process with Automated Workflows
March 16, 2023
Designing estate planning and probate matter processes
An estate planning and probate matter typically goes through four phases: asset accumulation, estate planning, administration, and post-mortem. Each stage presents different legal challenges and opportunities. Automating your workflows can improve efficiency and productivity while ensuring accuracy and compliance.
In this blog post, we’ll look at how to start creating a foundational estate planning workflow and explain how automated workflows can help you streamline your process.
The challenge of standardizing estate planning and probate tasks
Estate planning and probate law firms face several challenges when standardizing their workflows for matters. Every client has unique estate planning needs, yet tailoring the workflow to address individual requirements may not be feasible.
Another challenge is the integration of multiple software platforms and technologies involved in estate planning workflows. Integrating these systems can be challenging and time-consuming. Additionally, estate planning is a complex and detail-oriented process that requires attention to detail and accuracy. Errors in the workflow can have serious consequences, so it is essential to ensure legal teams follow all steps correctly.
Lastly, estate planning involves sensitive and personal information; clients may have questions or concerns about the process. Legal professionals must be able to communicate effectively with clients to address these issues and provide them with peace of mind. In summary, standardizing estate planning workflows can be challenging. Still, legal professionals can develop effective workflows by carefully assessing individual client needs, keeping up-to-date with changes in the law and technology, and ensuring accurate and effective communication with clients.
Why do estate law firms need to establish consistent processes?
Standardizing workflows for estate planning firms can offer several benefits, including increased efficiency, consistency, and accuracy in handling estate planning and probate matters. All legal team members will know which tasks they must complete, who is responsible for each, and when they are due. This dependability and collaboration can reduce the time spent on administrative tasks and allow the team to focus on providing high-quality legal services to clients.
Improve client communication and satisfaction by creating a consistent process for client communication. Your team can ensure clients receive timely updates and information about their estate planning matters. Improved communication builds trust with clients and increases their satisfaction with the firm’s services.
Standardizing workflows can help small estate planning firms improve their operations, provide better services to clients, and stay competitive in a rapidly changing industry. By adopting the right tools and processes, firms can streamline their workflows and focus on what they do best: helping clients fulfill their final wishes.
Designing a general estate planning workflow
For successful estate planning law firms, the key is to focus on gathering the correct information in an organized, efficient manner. Gathering information includes a client questionnaire that captures family members (and their associated complexities), accounts, properties, businesses, liabilities, insurance policies, wishes, fiduciaries, and beneficiaries.
Case management software can streamline this process and provide one source of truth for all data. Use case management software to perform conflict checks, draft engagement letters, and create standard client intake forms/questionnaires. Having one source of truth allows law firms to update entire portfolios with multiple beneficiaries in one easy step and review for necessary information while tracking changes within matters for complete insight into the whole process.
Create a nurturing client intake process
Effective estate planning requires the utmost attention to detail, making intake and information gathering a critical part of the process. For example, begin with a client questionnaire identifying family members and their associated complexities, accounts, properties, businesses, liabilities, insurance policies, wishes, fiduciaries, and beneficiaries.
Estate planning firms can benefit from a lockstep intake process to nurture potential clients through the time they sign the client fee agreement (an engagement letter).
- Pre-screen all potential clients by performing a conflict check
- Respond to the initial inquiry to schedule an initial consultation.
- Send email reminders to the lead on what they should prepare (including a client questionnaire), the date/time, and the location of the consultation.
- During the consultation, use a standardized intake form to capture relevant information.
- Draft, review, and send an engagement letter.
- Confirm receipt of the signed engagement letter.
Gain a complete overview of the client intake process in this blog.
The formula for an estate planning matter
Law firms can also save time and effort by using document automation tools and pre-existing templates, for example, inserting wills and trusts templates during the drafting documents tasks to speed up the process and reduce the amount of work required overall. Additionally, this provides a consistent approach to estate planning matters and increases accuracy when creating client strategies.
- Create any physical or electronic file to house all documents.
- Add contact information for the applicable parties like the executor, trustee, family, guardian, and agents for property and health.
- Use the intake form to add critical information to practice management tools such as properties, beneficiaries, trust information, investment funds, insurance policies, and business holdings.
- Create an asset inventory
- Follow up by ordering deeds, titles, and/or other documents.
- Draft documents/instruments (will, trust, power of attorney)
- Review documents with the client and execute instruments by signing.
- Draft, review, and send out letters to relevant stakeholders or parties.
- Create, review, and send the invoice.
- Schedule automated email reminders one year out asking the client to review or update their instruments (or tasks for staff to create a follow-up letter)
Law firms can include detailed steps for specific matters when drafting documents to make the workflow smoother, including inserting templates like wills and trusts into the “draft documents task” or letters to send to clients during the “sending out letters” step. Document automation helps streamline the workflow and increases accuracy when preparing client documents.
General workflows for common probate matters
Establishing standard processes for everyday probate matters is critical to the success of any estate planning or probate law firm. Creating a definitive action plan that addresses each client’s needs can be challenging with many complex tasks and variables. However, having a consistent base of tasks can help law firms streamline their processes and provide quality services more efficiently. This section provides guidance on general workflows for these common probate matters, such as executing wills, administering trusts, settling creditor claims, and filing tax returns.
Descendants Estate Workflow
Workflow and tasks for an estate planning law firm when administering/executing a will:
- Open the matter by recording the date of the death
- Obtain documents for the client
- Locate original will
- Obtain certified copies of death certificate
- Present the Will for Probate: decline to act or show cause (on matter opening)
- File original will with clerk (30 days after date of death)l
- Provide/Publish notice to all interested parties
- Note when the claims period ends (time period may vary, e.g., Illinois is 3 months after the publication of notice date)
- Note when Probate Claims period ends (time period may vary, e.g., Illinois is 6 months after the publication of notice date)
- Note when the Will Contest period ends (time period may vary, e.g., Illinois is 6 months after present the will for probate)
- File the Decedent's Income Tax Return (tasked for the following year and due before 4/15)
- Pay the expenses from the estate (about 9 months after date of death)
- Distribute the assets to the beneficiaries (about 12 months after date of death)
- Close out the estate and file any necessary paperwork with the court to terminate the probate process (about 2 years after the date of death)
Administering a Trust Workflow
Workflow and tasks for an estate planning law firm when administering a trust:
- Initial consultation
- Gather and organize all relevant documents
- Review the trust documents and identify the terms and provisions that govern the trust administration
- Provide notice to all trust beneficiaries
- Work with the trustee to develop a plan of action that outlines the steps that will be taken to administer the trust
- Manage and oversee the assets held by the trust
- File all necessary tax returns
- Execute the plan of action developed earlier
- Closing out the trust
Trusts are tricking. Watch this free on-demand webinar to Trust Yourself with Trust Accounting >
Plan for your future workload
Estate planning and probate law are nuanced areas of practice. Your practice depends on information gathering, strategizing, and drafting successful instruments. Lean into developing standard processes and automating some of the work so you can scale your practice.
With some evaluation and optimization over time, you can develop an efficient system that works best for you and your clients.
Resources for further reading on estate planning and probate
For more resources on estate planning and probate law, check out the links below:
- On-Demand Webinar: How the Most Successful Estate Planning Law Firms Run their Practice
- How to Organize Your Estate Planning Law Firm with Document Automation
- The Law Offices of Lora Matthews Fausett - Smokeball Legal Case Management Software
- Estate Planning Webinar
- Estate Planning Software for Attorneys - Will & Trust, Tax & More
- Probate Case Management Software for Attorneys
Learn more about Smokeball document management for law firms
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