As you get older, the importance of developing an estate plan increases dramatically. However, according to a recent survey, only 42% of Americans have a plan for their estate.
Looking ahead at end-of-life situations feels grim, but you need to have a plan for what you leave behind. Should you pass intestate, meaning without a will, the state will be in charge of distributing your assets.
This sort of planning involves a significant amount of legal paperwork, intimate knowledge of estate planning laws, and a sound strategy. For this, you need an estate planning lawyer to guide you through the complex process of preserving your legacy.
The Duties of an Estate Planning Lawyer
It should be obvious that estate planning lawyers are attorneys who specialize in estate planning. That means their chief responsibility is assisting you in your end-of-life preparations. They ensure that your loved ones receive the benefits you've decided to pass along.
Start your estate planning with an attorney as soon as you're able. Your estate plan needs to account for so much more than the money you're leaving to loved ones. It may include designating guardianship, determining what to do with a business you own, and making determinations on financial assets like stocks.
You need the help of an attorney to guide you through the plan-making process.
Develop a Will
Writing a will is a critical aspect of estate planning. While you can write one on your own, enlisting the help of a qualified estate planning attorney will make the process much easier.
An attorney builds a will that uses specific language, can help the will stand up to contestation, and ensures that your assets are distributed in the way that you desire.
Will writing can be complex, and it's easy to make mistakes. Unfortunately, a minor oversight could put your entire estate in jeopardy.
Establish a Trust
While wills typically go into effect in the event of your passing, a trust can go into effect immediately. Another key difference is that a will must go through the probate process and become public record, while a trust remains private.
Your lawyer may determine that establishing a trust is a more appropriate measure.
With a trust, you'll name a trustee who will be responsible for distributing the assets named in the trust according to its outlined terms.
Assistance with Taxes
Inheritance and estate taxes can quickly drain any funds you pass along to your family members. This may leave them without the financial support you planned to provide for them.
An estate planning lawyer will work with you and your loved ones to navigate these complicated tax laws and help you minimize the tax liabilities associated with estate planning.
Powers of Attorney
Should you become incapacitated and unable to make decisions on your own, a lawyer can help establish powers of attorney so a loved one can act on your behalf. This is especially important if you're someone's primary caregiver, as you need to ensure that they're provided for.
Situations When You Need an Estate Planning Attorney
In addition to their most common duties, an estate planning lawyer can aid you and your family members in a number of complex situations.
Updating Your Plan
Family dynamics are ever-changing, so you may deem it necessary to make changes to your end-of-life plan. Fortunately, a lawyer makes the process simple.
You may want to leave assets to a specific family member, add a new beneficiary like a grandchild or step-child, or exclude someone from your will.
Some members of your family may prove themselves too irresponsible to manage their inheritance. You may also need help navigating laws that prohibit non-immediate family members from receiving benefits.
Interstate or International Assets
Dealing with your state's estate laws is complicated enough, but the process becomes even more difficult if you have assets in another state or another country. You'll have to abide by the laws in those states and countries as well as the ones where you currently reside.
Without professional legal help in this situation, it's almost impossible to ensure that your assets are protected and distributed in the manner you desire.
Succession for Your Business
If you're an entrepreneur and own a small business or a stake in one, you need to ensure that your business doesn't fall into the wrong hands when you pass. An attorney will help you determine your business's succession plan and ensure that an appropriate individual takes the reins.
Protecting Your Will
Since wills go through the probate process, certain situations allow interested parties to contest the validity of your will. The responsibility of defending the will then falls to your named executor.
An experienced attorney can help ensure that your will is able to stand up to contestation. They can include a powerful no-contest clause that renders anyone who contests a will unable to receive benefits.
Establishing an Irrevocable Trust
While many estate plans allow you to modify them, an irrevocable trust cannot be changed. Due to the permanence of such a trust, it's advised you consult with an attorney.
Irrevocable trusts have a few unique advantages and can certainly benefit your loved ones. They may help someone who depends on you for primary care retain their medical benefits, help a beneficiary who needs financial aid minimize costly estate taxes, and can protect your assets from debtors who come to collect from your estate.
An Estate Planning Lawyer Keeps Your Assets in Order
Planning your estate is a difficult thing to do, and it's advised you start the process early. Consult with an estate planning lawyer so your beneficiaries don't have to worry about what happens to your assets after your passing.
The best estate planning lawyers will help you develop a plan for your financial assets. They'll determine if you need a will or trust. Finally, they can help you through all of the complex legal situations surrounding estate law.
Looking to hire a lawyer to help with your estate planning? The De Bruin Law Firm is ready to help. Schedule a consultation today.