Most people do not like to think about estate planning, especially those that are young and do not have families. However, estate planning is not just planning for your death. A good estate plan helps to protect your assets and allows you to choose who takes care of you and your finances should you become incapacitated.
Even if you have very few assets, you should create an estate plan. As you gain more assets, you can adjust your estate plan to include any additional assets you inherit or purchase over the years. When you have an estate plan, you control your estate – to a certain extent – should you become incapacitated or die.
Documents Included in an Estate Plan
An estate plan can be as straightforward or as complicated as you need. Some people may want a will, while others might need living trusts, living wills, and other documents that help protect you from creditors of your beneficiaries. Before you retain an estate planning attorney, you should have an idea of how you want your estate handled if you become incapacitated or die. Your attorney can then put your wishes into the proper documents.
Estate Planning Firms
Some law firms have the experience to draft simple wills, while others are well-versed in probate law. Before you retain an attorney to help you with estate planning, you should find out more about the attorney and/or law firm you are considering. If you cannot find the answers on your own, you can always schedule a consult with the attorney to find out if the attorney and/or firm meets your needs. Just because you schedule a consultation, it does not mean that you have to choose that attorney.
1. Does the Attorney or Firm Specialize in Probate and Estate Law?
Some firms will draft a will and then call it a day. However, in many cases, a will alone does not prevent your estate from going to probate. It certainly does not protect your assets should you become incapacitated. Before you retain an estates attorney, make sure his or her knowledge extends beyond drafting a will.
2. Does the Firm Carry Malpractice Insurance?
While a good attorney does not expect problems with his or her work, sometimes mistakes happen. A good attorney will have malpractice insurance to cover your financial injuries should something go wrong with the attorney’s representation of you.
3. How Long Has the Attorney Been Practicing Estate Law?
Estate law and tax law are often combined. Find out how long your attorney has been practicing estate law and tax law. Whether you have a large estate that exceeds the estate tax minimums or you have issues with social security, retirement accounts, and other estate and/or tax issues that affect your estate, your attorney should be well-versed in tax law and estate law.
4. What Does the Attorney Charge?
Always ask your attorney how he or she charges. Some might ask a flat rate to create a simple estate, while some might charge by the hour. Generally, you do not file a will or a trust until after a person dies, so you do not have filing fees to worry about. While you can ask your attorney about future filing fees, you will not get a valid answer since the courts change their filing fees over time.
If an attorney quotes you a fee without knowing more about your estate, the attorney may not have extensive experience in the area and is someone you might want to avoid, unless you are looking for a simple will.
5. Does the Attorney Provide Additional Services?
If the attorney provides an extensive estate package, you may need help with funding a trust or other services. During the consultation, you should ask your attorney what other services he or she provides, should certain topics come up.
Know a Probate Attorney’s Duties
A probate attorney has duties other than drafting your estate documents. He or she must help you create an estate plan that best protects you and your assets should you become incapacitated or die.
6. Updating Documents
When you buy new assets, such as a new home, a new vehicle, obtain or close retirement accounts, or other major purchases or sales, you should always contact your attorney to update your estate documents. Be sure to ask your attorney how long the updates will take and how much the attorney charges for each update. You will have to go into the firm to sign and notarize the updated documents.
7. Review Documents
Your attorney should give you a quiet place to review the finished documents. While the attorney does not need to stay in the room while you review the documents, he or she should be readily accessible if you have questions. Ask your attorney what his or her practices are for a review of documents. You need to feel comfortable and not rushed while you are reviewing the documents.
8. Legal Advice
Creating an estate is not as simple as putting everything into a will or a trust. Different types of trusts have various applications. And your estate documents do not automatically cover all of your assets. Some assets pass without having to go through the probate process, such as some with named beneficiaries. Life insurance and retirement accounts may also pass to another person without going through a trust unless you take the appropriate steps to cover these accounts.
Some accounts and property may need to be re-titled into the trust. If not, even with a will and trust, your heirs could be forced into probate. Ask your attorney if part of his or her services is to help you re-title the assets that require re-titling.
Contact Silver Tax Group
Regardless of your age and the size of your estate, contact Silver Tax Group to set up a consultation to discuss your estate plan. Once you have a solid estate plan, you do not have to worry that your assets will go where you want them to go after your death.