THE IMPORTANCE OF A CLIENT QUESTIONNAIRE
AN INITIAL CLIENT INTERVIEW
The initial client interview is the first step in obtaining accurate, comprehensive information from a client to assist the attorney in meeting client needs. An effective interview permits an attorney to (1) understand the client’s immediate goals, (2) identify problems the client may not be aware of, and (3) anticipate future problems that may be avoided through planning techniques. An interview guide, called a “client questionnaire,” allows for the efficient gathering of all relevant information. The questionnaires on this page are offered to assist prospective clients in preparing for the important initial client interview with attorneys from the Law Office of Donald D. Vanarelli. We look forward to meeting with you and helping you attain your goals.
When representing a client in estate planning, an attorney must know what assets are owned by the client in order to determine whether tax planning is required and, if so, to identify effective planning strategies. Also, the client’s intentions with respect to disposition of assets and the selection of executors, trustees and other personal representatives must be ascertained. The attached estate planning questionnaires, one for married clients and one for single, widowed and divorced clients, elicit all necessary information. Clients should bring the completed form to the initial client interview. The questionnaires are annexed below.
For married clients – Confidential Client Questionnaire for Estate Planning (Married)
For single, widowed and divorced clients – Confidential Client Questionnaire for Estate Planning (Single, Widowed and Divorced)
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PROBATE and ESTATE ADMINISTRATION
Probate is the process by which a deceased person’s Last Will and Testament is proven to be valid and accepted by the Surrogate’s Court. The probate estate includes all property held in the sole name of the decedent which passes under the decedent’s Last Will and Testament. Certain kinds of property, such as property owned jointly by the deceased and another person, life insurance, and property held in trust, are not part of the probate estate and are not subject to the probate process. The entire probate and estate administration process can take a year or more to complete, depending on the nature and extent of estate assets. Once a decedent’s Will is admitted to probate, executors and trustees are appointed by the Court, and administration of the estate begins. The goal of probate and estate administration is the proper management of the decedent’s estate assets until those assets are distributed to the decedent’s beneficiaries. The attached probate questionnaire elicits all information needed to assist the executor in administering an estate. Bring the completed questionnaire to the initial interview.
The probate questionnaire is annexed here – Confidential Client Questionnaire for Probate and Estate Administration
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An attorney applying for guardianship on behalf of a client needs information about the alleged incapacitated person, the proposed guardian(s), and all persons having an interest in the guardianship proceedings, including those legally required to receive notice of the guardianship. The attorney also needs information about the proposed ward’s income, expenses, assets and liabilities. The attached guardianship questionnaire elicits all necessary information. Please bring the completed form to the initial interview.
The questionnaire is annexed here – Confidential Guardianship Questionnaire
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SOCIAL SECURITY AND SSI DISABILITY CLAIMS
Social Security Disability (SSD) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are two programs available from the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) that play an important role in an elder law practice. SSD benefits are available to a blind or disabled worker who applies for benefits; has not reached full retirement age; has sufficient social security earnings to be deemed “insured” for disability; is disabled; and has been disabled for a 5-month waiting period. Similarly, SSI benefits are available to an aged (65 or older), blind or disabled individual who applies for SSI and all other benefits for which he/she may be entitled; is a U.S. resident or qualified alien; and who meets the income and resource requirements. SSD benefits are available only to those with sufficient earnings to be deemed “insured” for disability. SSI benefits are paid to blind or disabled persons based upon that person’s financial need; “insured” status is unnecessary. The following questionnaire elicits all necessary information. Clients should bring the completed form to the initial client interview.
The questionnaire is annexed here – Confidential Client Questionnaire for Social Security / SSI Disability Appeals
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PUBLIC BENEFITS / MEDICAID PLANNING for ASSET PROTECTION
An attorney giving Medicaid planning advice must have accurate information about the client – family information, medical information and financial information. Client goals must also be ascertained. It is also critical to know the client’s marital status. Medicaid planning strategies for married clients differ substantially from those available to the single client. Another important factor is whether the client needs crisis planning because he or she is already residing in a nursing home, or whether the client, through mentally or physically impaired, can still reside at home with assistance or in an assisted living facility. The attached Medicaid planning questionnaires elicit all necessary information. Clients should bring the completed form to the initial client interview. The questionnaires are annexed here –
For single, widowed and divorced clients – Confidential Client Questionnaire for Public Entitlement and Asset Protection Planning (Single, Widowed and Divorced)
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COMPENSATION and PENSION BENEFITS
DEPARTMENT of VETERANS AFFAIRS
Benefit programs available through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) include those which provide money benefits for (1) service-connected disabilities and (2) non-service-connected benefits for aged and disabled veterans. The primary benefit for service-connected disabilities is the VA “compensation” benefit; the primary benefit for non-service- connected aged and disabled veterans is the VA “pension” benefit.
VA COMPENSATION BENEFITS
VA “compensation” is a disability benefits program that provides monthly payments to compensate veterans for service-connected disabilities. The general eligibility requirements for VA disability compensation are: (1) that the veteran’s injury or disease was suffered or aggravated in the line of duty; (2) that the veteran was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable; and (3) that the disability did not result from the veteran’s own willful misconduct, or abuse of alcohol or drugs.
VA compensation questionnaire is annexed here – Confidential Client Questionnaire for VA Compensation Benefits
VA PENSION BENEFITS PLANNING
The VA pension benefit program compensates aged and disabled veterans who meet financial eligibility standards for non-service-connected disabilities. There are three (3) types of benefits available through the VA pension program: (1) the basic pension, (2) “Housebound” benefits and (3) “Aid and Attendance” benefits. To qualify, the veteran must be discharged under other than dishonorable conditions; must have wartime service consisting of at least 90 days of active service, one day of which was during a war-time period; must have limited income and resources; and must be age 65 or older, or be permanently and totally disabled.
VA pension questionnaire is annexed here – Confidential Questionnaire for Veterans Pension Planning
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SPECIAL NEEDS TRUSTS
Special needs trusts allow disabled persons to receive gifts, lawsuit settlements, inheritances and other funds while maintaining eligibility for government programs based upon financial need like Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Section 8 Housing and the like. There are two (2) types of special needs trusts, and the difference is based upon the source of the assets used to fund the trust. Special needs trusts funded with assets belonging to disabled persons themselves, either from gifts received from others or litigation settlements, are called “self-settled special needs trusts.” Special needs trusts funded with assets belonging to third parties, such as inheritances left to a disabled child in trust, are called “third-party special needs trusts.” The laws governing the two types of special needs trusts are quite different, and complex.
Confidential client questionnaire for a self-settled special needs trust – Confidential Client Questionnaire for Self-Settled Special Needs Trust
Confidential client questionnaire for a third-party special needs trust – Confidential Client Questionnaire for Third-Party Special Needs Trust
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DIVORCE and FAMILY LAW
Marriage is a unique institution, and a matrimonial lawsuit is a unique type of litigation, involving both a body of laws and a social status. Few have captured the dual nature of the marital relationship as well as the court in Patel v. Navitlal, 165 N.J. Super 402, 407 (Ch. Div. 1992) as follows:
Marriage is both a legal and social institution, contractual in nature, creating both rights and duties attaching to both parties. It creates status unique in the law subject to the control of the legislature.
While people involved in any lawsuit are in conflict, people in a matrimonial lawsuit are involved in an extremely personal conflict that goes to the core of a person’s beliefs and emotions. As a result, rapport between attorney and client is essential in a matrimonial lawsuit, and the development of rapport begins during the initial client interview. The client questionnaire annexed below elicits the information needed by the attorney to successfully represent a matrimonial client and bring the divorce case to a satisfactory conclusion.
The questionnaire is annexed here – Confidential Divorce Questionnaire
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REAL ESTATE CLOSINGS
The purchase of a home is often the most significant financial investment made by a person in his or her lifetime. A home purchase is also likely to be the first time a buyer voluntarily seeks legal representation to protect the buyer’s interests during the course of the transaction. A real estate transaction also involves a myriad of professionals, including attorneys, real estate brokers, title insurance companies, banks and mortgage lenders, home inspectors and others. As a result, the purchase of a home is often a stressful experience for the buyers and sellers involved in the transaction. Given these factors, it is important that the attorney representing either the seller or the purchaser of a residential dwelling have all of the necessary facts, including information about the seller, the buyer, the property and the transaction itself. The questionnaire below elicits all of the information necessary to conduct a successful real estate closing.
Real Estate Questionnaire – Client Questionnaire for the Purchase / Sale of Real Estate