Do I Really Need an Estate Planning Lawyer?
You want to protect your family in case something happens to you. And to accomplish this, you need to have a well thought out estate plan. At the heart of every estate plan is a Last Will and Testament. This is a fundamental document that everyone should have, and from there, there are other tools that should be employed to address various individual needs and circumstances.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Estate Planning?
When setting up a will and other types of estate planning documents, this is a question that is often asked. In today’s digital age, there are a lot of tools out there that can allow you to prepare these documents on your own. You can watch YouTube videos, read blog posts, and you can even create your will using DIY “fill in the blank” forms that are available on many websites. So, the question is not can you create your own will, but should you?
To answer that question, it is important to consider the fact that most people need more than just a will as part of their estate plan. For example, even if you have limited financial means, you should still have powers of attorney set up for healthcare and financial matters. You should also have a living will/advance healthcare directive that specifies what medical procedures and other actions should be taken (with regards to your health) if you are no longer able to make these decisions yourself because of illness or incapacity.
Here are some of the most important reasons you should consider hiring a qualified attorney to draft and prepare your estate planning documents:
Details are Important
Estate planning is serious business, and the documents you prepare must contain very precise language. One misplaced word can change the entire meaning of a document, and one missed signature can make the document legally invalid. Not to mention that estate planning documents are state specific, and state laws are always changing. By working with an attorney, you will have the assurance that the documents you create are drafted and worded correctly and in accordance with the most up-to-date state laws.
Estate Planning Lawyers can help with Complex Situations
When you carefully examine your life circumstances, you may find that it is more complicated than you thought. For example, do you have minor children? Are you in a second or subsequent marriage? Are you recently divorced? Do you have a family member who is disabled? Do you own a business? Do you own real estate in more than one state?
These and other complex issues are nearly impossible to adequately address with a “fill in the blank” form. You will need the help of a seasoned estate planning attorney to sort through these issues and develop the most practical, effective, and cost-efficient plan.
Estate Planning Lawyers Provide a Personal Touch
Utilizing online resources can be advantageous for many purposes, but one thing that is sorely lacking when you decide to go this route is personalized service. No two situations are exactly alike, and each family has its own set of unique dynamics. When you work directly with an attorney, you are able to sit down with them and explain, in detail, your specific circumstances, needs, and final wishes. This allows them to customize an estate plan that is right for you.
An Estate Planning Lawyer Can Help You Save Money
Although you may be able to save a few bucks (though probably not as much as you think) in the short-term by using a DIY website, it could cost you and your loved ones a lot more in the long run. For example, what if a court determines after you die that your will and other estate planning documents are not legally enforceable or will not work as you had intended? It could cost thousands of dollars untold amounts of time and stress for your loved ones to clean up this mess after the fact. By working with a lawyer now, you can have the peace of mind and assurance that all your ducks are in a row and you and your family are fully prepared for a worst-case scenario.
Strategies to Avoid Challenges to Your Estate Plan
Communicate your Wishes
If a family member(s) feels blindsided, rejected, and hurt when they learn about the contents (or lack thereof) of your will, they are more likely to channel those negative sentiments into trying to contest it. It is best to talk to them about your desires and reasons for structuring your estate plan as you did.
Speaking to your family members about your estate keeps it from being a surprise. Also, it provides others time to work through their expectations and arrive at an understanding of your reasoning.
Speak to Your Executor
Further to speaking to your beneficiaries, ensure that your nominated executor knows where to locate your documents. Your will cannot be probated, and your trust cannot be administered if no one can locate them. Many people overlook this step. If your executor knows where to find the will, it prevents it from mysteriously “disappearing” if a disgruntled relative finds it first. It would also be a good idea to have your attorney retain a copy of the will for safekeeping.
Include a No Challenge Provision
Are you concerned that family members might be disgruntled and try to challenge your plans? Consider including a clause in the will that disinherits anyone who challenges it. This can be a vital measure to dissuade anyone in your family from undoing your plans.
Use a Trust
A revocable trust is a great vehicle for transferring assets directly to your chosen heirs. This can completely avoid probate and all the opportunities for challenges there. Upon death, this trust becomes irrevocable and manages and distributes assets outside of probate. Creating a living trust will allow you to retain and use your assets during your lifetime but transfer them to individuals you select when you pass. The terms remain confidential they do not become part of the court record.
Plan for Unexpected Events
It is important to consider and prepare for the unexpected, such as if you are, god forbid, incapacitated in an accident. In every estate plan, a financial power of attorney naming someone to act on your behalf to manage your financial matters should be included. Furthermore, it should also include a health care power of attorney granting someone the control to act on your behalf in making medical care decisions.
Additionally, if you do not want your life to be extended via exceptional medical measures should your health condition deteriorate hopelessly, it is crucial to state that desire in a “living will.” In the sad event that you become incapacitated and have not executed basic powers of attorney, your family members will have to petition the court to appoint a guardian for you. This process is costly and cumbersome, and most clients want to avoid putting their loved ones through such complex procedures.
Update Beneficiary Designations
Sometimes a person forgets to update the beneficiary designation under their retirement plans and insurance policies as part of their estate planning. Many people mistakenly believe that the trust or will manages these assets, but this is not correct. Beneficiary designation must be updated to make it consistent with your asset distribution goals. If you fail to do so, it may lead to these assets being distributed in a manner that you did not intend.
Designating a Custodian or Trustee for Minor Beneficiaries
Minors below the age of 18 years are not allowed to receive property directly from an estate. Rather, a guardian must be appointed to hold the property on the minor’s behalf. The time, trouble, and costs related to guardianship can be avoided by designating in a will a custodian or a trustee for any minor beneficiaries.
Giving Away Gifts During Your Lifetime
An effective way to ensure that your wishes are honored is to give property away during your lifetime. This helps avoid claims of undue pressure. If there are certain special assets that you want to gift specific people, go ahead and hand them over now if you can do so without incurring any tax penalties.
Call the Experienced Louisville Estate Planning Lawyers at John H Ruby and Associates
If you need help with a Last Will and Testament or any other type of estate planning document, we highly encourage you to work with a reputable attorney. If you are in Louisville, KY or a nearby community, we invite you to contact John H. Ruby and Associates to schedule a free consultation.
If you are in the Louisville, LaGrange or Shelbyville, Ky areas, call our office today at 502-895-2626. You may also message us through our online contact form or stop by our office in person at your convenience.