Estate Planning Attorney

An estate planning attorney can help you create documents that advise your family members on what to do should you become incapacitated or die. An estate plan can save your family a lot of money by transferring assets – in some cases, without going through the probate process.

What Is Estate Planning?

Your estate plan contains more than your will. An estate plan prepares for asset management, transfer of assets, and dispersal of your assets. Estate planning is not only for death. You might become incapacitated because of an accident or a sudden illness – the estate planning documents ensure that someone manages your assets until you can manage them yourself. You should have an estate plan, regardless of your age, especially if you own property and/or have a family. Even if you are in your early 20s and own nothing but a vehicle and personal items and have a bank account, an estate plan is beneficial. You can also reduce some taxes if you have an estate plan with the proper type of trust. Finally, a thorough estate plan will likely need to include other documents, such as a living will, medical power of attorney, and financial power of attorney.

When Should I Start Estate Planning?

If you have a bank account and own assets, regardless of how valuable, you should begin estate planning. As you add more assets and start a family, you can adjust your estate plan. It is not uncommon for people to name beneficiaries for their bank accounts, in which case, these assets do not need to be included in the estate plan. However, any bank or other financial account that does not have a beneficiary or a joint owner needs to be in the estate plan. Even a vehicle and your personal items should be in the estate plan. If you die intestate – without a will – your assets must go through the probate process regardless of value. Going through the probate process eats your estate value – with the proper documents in your estate plan, you can alleviate many of the end-of-life costs that eat away the value of your estate.

The Most Important Documents for Your Estate Plan

Your estate plan should consist of several documents:

  • Last Will & Testament. This document dictates how your assets are distributed after your death. It also names a guardian for your minor children. Should you die before your children come of age, the guardian will take care of them.
  • Trusts. You can create several types of trusts. Your estate planning attorney will help you determine which type of trust is best for you and your family. Some trusts are revocable, which means that you can change them during your lifetime. Others are irrevocable, which means that you cannot change them without taking legal action.
  • Financial Power of Attorney. This document allows someone to handle your finances should you become incapacitated. This is one of the documents that is used prior to death. While you do not plan on getting ill or getting into a catastrophic accident, it can happen. You can customize the financial power of attorney to give the person you choose as much or as little power as you want. You can even have separate powers of attorney for different accounts and/or financial transactions.
  • Healthcare Power of Attorney. Should you become incapacitated and unable to make your own healthcare decisions, the healthcare power of attorney names one or more people to make those decisions for you.
  • Living Will. A living will tells your family and doctors what to do if you need continued life support. A living will dictates the actions your loved ones should have your doctors take in certain situations, such as requiring a feeding tube for the rest of your life, resuscitating you or not, depending on your condition, and more.
  • Healthcare Consent for Minor Children. Should you become unable to make healthcare decisions for your minor children, you can name another person to make those decisions.

Do I Need a Lawyer for My Estate Plan?

Some people opt to create their own estate documents, believing it will save them time or money. However, these documents have significant legal ramifications if done improperly. Additionally, if they are not executed properly, the court will deem the documents invalid. If your last will & testament does not meet the legal standards set by statutes and the court rejects it, your estate will have to go through probate – it is as if you never made a will. While it may be tempting to go the DIY route or utilize a simple online option, only an estate planning attorney can ensure proper creation, intention, and execution of your wishes.  Contact an estate planning attorney to create a new estate plan or to update an estate plan that you already have in place.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does an estate planning attorney do?

An estate planning attorney is a legal professional who helps individuals and families create the documents necessary in order to protect their future. An estate planning attorney will be able to help prepare for the unexpected. It is crucial to work with an estate planning attorney and know what will happen to your family and your assets in the event of your incapacitation or death.

Is it better to have a will or a trust?

Wills and trusts actually serve different purposes, so one isn’t necessarily better than the other. For most people and families, it is actually best to use a combination of two, as well as some additional estate planning documents.

What is the difference between a will and estate planning?

A will is a tool used for estate planning. A last will and testament (commonly just referred to as a will) is a document that outlines a person’s wishes for the allocation of their assets and property in the event of their death.

When is a good time to get a Power of Attorney in place?

Anytime, really.  Every adult needs to have parameters in place as to who can make decisions should they not be able to.  In fact, once a person turns 18, there are considerable changes as to who can access what personal information and decision-making.  It’s a good idea to have a POA done for anyone 18 years of age and up since, by then, parents/guardians will no longer have access to nor decision-making power regarding finances, healthcare, and some educational records access.