If the thought of writing your will or planning the distribution of your assets after death makes you feel a bit on edge, you’re not alone. You don’t have to do it alone either—and frankly, you probably shouldn’t do it alone. Estate planning is a detailed, time-consuming process that will have a major impact on your family, friends, and causes long after you pass away.
What’s more? Everyone has an estate, no matter how small or modest it may be. Have a car? That’s an estate. Have a bank account? Ditto. In this article, we’ll review what estate planning entails, who should have an estate plan, and why you should hire an estate planning attorney.
What is Estate Planning?
An estate plan is a set of legal documents that detail what you want to do with your assets and belongings after death, to whom they should be distributed, and when and how that distribution should take place. An estate plan can include many documents, such as:
- A Living Will: Detailing the type of medical care and end-of-life care you desire if you become unable to communicate it
- A Last Will and Testament: Detailing who should take care of your children, business, home, and other property, as well as to whom the property should be entrusted
- A Living Trust: This is a more detailed document similar to the last will and testament, but includes even more protections for your assets
- A Charitable Trust: Detailing a cause you wish to donate to and how your legacy will be marked and publicly or privately acknowledged
- A Financial Power of Attorney: Detailing who is responsible for your finances and important decisions surrounding your assets and keeping your family financially stable after death
- Beneficiary Designations: Detailing the people you want to receive your savings, life insurance account, retirement account, and other financial assets
As you can see, depending upon your individual situation, estate planning is very likely to entail much more than simply writing up a page or two of your wishes for proceedings after death. In addition to the above documents, good estate planning may also include plans to provide for any loved ones with special needs or healthcare issues, additional protections from creditors or divorce proceedings on behalf of a loved one, plans to help minimize taxation and legal fees, or even plans for the care of your beloved pets once you’re gone.
Who Should Have an Estate Plan?
Let’s just get straight to the point here: everyone has an estate, no matter how small it may be, so everyone should have an estate plan.
While the word ‘estate’ may conjure up images of wealth, the reality is that those with modest incomes and assets may actually benefit even more from careful estate planning. Estate planning is also not meant for just the sick, elderly, or retired. You know the old saying: nothing is certain but death and taxes. Plus, estate plans are highly beneficial even in temporary situations, such as accidents, comas, and other healthcare conditions that may leave you temporarily unable to attend to your financial and family matters.
The bottom line is? Protecting yourself and your loved ones no matter what happens requires estate planning.
Reasons to Hire an Estate Planning Attorney
There are so many reasons why we tend to advise hiring an estate planning attorney over going the course alone. It is a much more cost-efficient choice, in the long run. Let’s look at why.
Avoid Costly Mistakes
Misspellings, omissions, even illegible handwriting can all create major roadblocks to having the court accept your documents and file them as a legal estate plan. Furthermore, if your family is stuck with the burden of fixing errors in your documents after you are gone, they will incur the cost of the attorneys and court fees themselves.
The process of transferring assets to the beneficiaries is also a lengthy process, taking up to two years in what’s known as probate. Probate can be both extremely expensive and extremely risky. If asset transfer is incorrectly managed, for example, recovery of the assets can become a nightmare. There are numerous complications associated with the process of probate - all of which can be avoided by enlisting the help of an experienced estate planning attorney.
Achieve Clarity and Objectivity
The process of estate planning must follow specific laws and guidelines in order to result in a legally recognized and executable plan. An estate planning attorney will be well versed in the requirements of the process, ensuring that what can be - or must be - included in each document is present. There are also guidelines enforcing who can and cannot witness each document, as well as what they must do over the course of executing the plan.
The complications of the estate planning process alone are enough to bring on considerable stress. Family dynamics can intensify when it comes to the topic of financial planning, too. Add on the emotional strain of contemplating death and departure from loved ones, and you have a situation that requires a helping hand. A trusted estate planning attorney can take some of that burden off of your shoulders by providing you guidance, clear answers, and experience based advice for the best course of action available to you.
Prepare for the Unexpected
It’s advisable to review and revise, if necessary, your estate plan at least once per year. That is not a task most people feel fully equipped for - let alone enthusiastic about. Having a trusted estate attorney will ensure that this task is taken care of for you - they’ll check in and hold you accountable for communicating any changes that may impact your estate. Moreso, they’ll be on call should you have any life changes or questions that come up. Beneficiaries die, children are born, assets change hands, businesses shutter, divorces happen - life changes. Laws and regulations can also transform over time. An attorney will be on top of the latest changes and their potential impacts on your estate. Staying proactive about incorporating any changes into your estate plan will leave you with a rock-solid foundation for protecting your loved ones.
Exercise Your Right to Choose
If you do not have an estate plan, your state probate law will dictate how to distribute your assets for you, and to whom they should go. You cannot rely on the good intentions of a trusted loved one to ensure that your savings, property, and other estate holdings will end up in the right hands. If it is not documented in a valid estate plan, it simply is not legally binding.
Take the power to choose into your own hands and enlist the help of an estate planning attorney. If you’re ready to begin discussing your plans for the future, consult with us today.