September 2018

Why Do I Use Questionnaires?

If you make an appointment with Edward Zetlin Law for the initial consult interview you will often (although not always) receive a questionnaire to fill out. There is a questionnaire for Estate Planning and another for Guardianship. Still another questionnaire for Disability Planning or Special Needs Planning.

Some feel these questionnaires are burdensome and somewhat off putting. They ask detailed information that may be personal. But seeking a consult from an attorney is indeed personal, every bit as personal as seeing your physician. It may not be about your body, but it is about your life. That is why attorneys have an absolute duty of confidentially.

But why are some of the specific questions asked? My estate planning questionnaire requests the prospective client to breakdown their assets between retirement (tax deferred) and non-retirement assets. To the client its all the same - it's part of my wealth. However, for estate planning purposes the assets are distinct. Retirement assets usually have designated beneficiaries. This means the assets will not go by will. Knowing what assets pass by will versus what assets pass by beneficiary designation is part of the estate planners' job.

Estate planning is much more than drafting a form which anyone can get via the internet. The job of the estate planner is not to draft a form but to draft a plan. Using a will, trust or beneficiary designation should be part of a plan that has been thought through. The plan should assure that one's intended beneficiaries receive the gift with maximum speed and least cost.

On my Guardianship questionnaire I ask the names and addresses of certain close relatives. Here the question is based on a statutory requirement. The Virginia code requires notice including names and addresses to certain close relatives whenever a guardianship action is set for a hearing. The petition itself requires those names or explain why they are not listed. It's less time consuming to get the information at the start of the interview. There are more important areas to discuss at the initial meeting. Having the information saves time and therefore money.

Of course, I am not the only attorney to use questionnaires. The point is in every matter there is common information that can help guide the discussion. Having that information at the meeting can help spend time on questions that can't be pinned down to a questionnaire.

That initial consult interview is part of the 'art' of being an attorney. It takes experience to learn that art although it may not be noticeable to the client. Having the information at the start of the consult along with the initial discussion can result in a plan of action.

It's not about filling out blank forms but about using that information to reach the client's desired goals.

Edward Zetlin Law is experienced in Medicaid Long-Term Care Planning; Guardianship, Conservatorship, Estate and Special Needs Planning. Don't hesitate to call if you face such an issue or if you have additional questions. Edward Zetlin Law would be happy to discuss. Please contact us at 703-379-0442 or e-mail at

Community Presentations: Edward Zetlin will present at the 27th Annual Advanced Elder Law Update Seminar. This is the yearly Continuing Legal Education program for elder law and special need practitioners sponsored by the Virginia CLE. The date is September 13, 2018 in Richmond, Virginia. Mr. Zetlin will present on Medicaid Expansion; CCC Plus and the Developmental Disability Waiver program.

Contact us at (703)379-0442;

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