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Overcoming the “D” WordThe first hurdle that you need to overcome is facing your very own mortality. A good estate planning lawyer will use different words to use as a euphemism for death then use it in order to make the client more at ease for the rest of the discussion. People will say anything except use the phrase: “When I die”. Unless you are already at ease about your own mortality, people are more likely to respond to different terms like: “kick the dust”, “six feet under”, “pass on” to name a few. There are also some people that are superstitious about death. They believe that making a will can bring their death sooner rather than later.
Loss of ControlFear of losing control of one’s assets is another reason why people forego estate planning. What you need to keep in your mind is estate planning does not give your assets away, it protects it. A lot people know that they have to deal with a lot of taxes when they die but are afraid of transferring control of their assets to their kids. They probably have heard of too many horror stories about ungrateful children that threw away their inheritance and forgot all about their parents. Most people simply want it both ways meaning they want complete unfettered access on all their assets and they do not want to pay a single dime to the government. There are methods that allow transfers while at the same time retaining majority control, and there are also ways that estate planning can protect your money.
Working With An Estate Planning LawyerSome people also avoid estate planning for fear of having to deal with a lawyer. What they are most afraid of is having to pay an exorbitant amount in legal fees, or worse, the attorney is not going to follow their wishes and will just create a standard estate plan that does not cover all the details and wishes they want enforced. The answer to overcoming this fear of lawyers is to find the right lawyer for the task at hand. As such, a referral from a trusted colleague, friend or relative is often the best method. Ask your friends or family whom they recommend. Like many important decisions, do some research on your own. Have a sit-down with the lawyer and ask all the questions you like and if you don’t like what you hear, just walk away and find someone who will.
Expense To Preparing Estate Planning DocumentsHow much will it all cost? Will it take a huge chunk of what I want to give to my beneficiaries? Fear of expense is another reason why people forego estate planning. What you need to know is that estate planning is not really all about you. It is for the loved ones you leave behind when you’re gone. You yourself will not feel the weight of estate taxes but your beneficiaries will if you do not put things in motion in order to prevent that. Leaving a well thought out plan is the best gift you can give to the surviving members of your family. Arrange your affairs while you are still healthy and of sound mind and body. This will provide your family with the most good once you have passed on.
Role of EducationEducation is vital to anyone interested in getting an estate plan. This takes the complicated process and breaks it down into much concise and easier to understand sections. Once you know one part, then you can proceed to the next until you have a good bearing about what the whole process is actually all about. You will then know that it is not merely a bunch of legal documents that you have to sign, but is really more of making an informed decision that will enforce your wishes, objectives, and final instructions in writing.
Purpose of Estate PlanningEstate planning is not about what happens to your assets after your death, it also about what happens to you and your property when you become mentally incapacitated. A lot of times mental disability planning is taboo and is not touched or discussed upon during the process of estate planning. However, any good lawyer will tell you that this is a mistake because we now are living longer but are not necessarily living healthy lifestyles. Since life can be unpredictable, it is more important to address the possibility of being incapacitated and should be part of planning for the future.
TaxesThere are currently 4 kinds of taxes that will have a bearing on your estate:
- Estate taxes (including state estate taxes),
- Gift taxes,
- Generation skipping transfer taxes
- Income taxes
Titling the PropertyHow your property is titled will ultimately dictate who will inherit after your death. Understanding the ownership of property is essential to good estate planning. The currrent owner will know who can inherit it after they are gone. For instance, in your will you leave everything equally to your siblings but all of your property is titled in joint names with your sister. In this case, all of the property will go to your sister after your death and absolutely nothing will be left to your brother.
Revocable TrustA revocable living trust is a kind of legal document that covers three phases of your life: what happens to you and your property while you are alive and healthy, if you become mentally incapacitated, and after your death. One of the reasons why people use a revocable trust as part of their estate plan is to avoid probate. It is also a powerful tool to keep your estate planning a private family matter.
Options for Paying Beneficiaries their InheritanceOnce there is a plan in place, you can now focus on who will inherit your assets and how they will inherit after your death. There are a lot of different ways by which you can pay your beneficiaries their inheritance. You can do it outright in one lump sum or in stages or phases; it may also be in lifetime discretionary trusts etcetera.
Estate Planning DocumentsThese are the necessary estate planning documents you will need:
- Last Will and Testament;
- Advance Health Care Directive;
- Living Will and;
- Power of Attorney.
An Estate Planning Lawyer Who Focuses on Estate PlanningWhen it comes to the law, lawyers have different fields of specialization they choose to practice. Not all lawyers can do estate planning just the same as not all lawyers can defend a criminal in open court. If you want to ensure that every aspect of your will is followed and all methods are used to your legal advantage after your death, you will require the services of a lawyer specializing in estate planning. This is especially more true if you have a complicated will or if there is a feud in the family or you want to protect someone from outside influence.
Years on the JobWhen it comes to the law, the more experienced the lawyer, the better regardless if the lawyer is a generalist law practitioner or someone that focuses entirely on estate planning. The more experience he has the better he can handle complex situations. The wills, trusts, and powers of attorney including healthcare documents used by many lawyers have been modified and revised to deal with everyday situations that their clients see. This will allow you to have peace of mind that the documents being prepared on your behalf will work when they are needed.
Help for Funding Assets into a Revocable Living TrustA lot of seasoned estate planning lawyers create foolproof estate plans for their clients but fall short of assisting them with the next vital step: funding the revocable living trust. A well-worded trust is virtually useless once you die, if your assets are not titled in the name of the trust while you were still living. Some law firms hire full time funding assistants or even have funding departments, while others simply provide you with a list of written instructions to follow. Others merely mention the importance of funding but again fall short of providing guidance on how to go about it. It is vital that you seek an attorney that can oversee the entire funding process.
Formal Updating and Maintenance ProgramsA lot of estate planning attorneys sees their work as a one-time transaction meaning they draft the documents requested by the client and they’re done. However, there are others who, for a nominal fee, will contact all of their clients on an annual or semi-annual basis in order to inform them of any changes to the law, offer new estate planning methods, inquire about life changes that may require modifications in the client’s documents. They can also check up on the progress of the client’s funding. Collaborating with a lawyer that offers a formal updating and maintenance program is highly recommended as this can ensure that the plan stays up-to-date and will work as intended when the time comes.
Flat Versus Hourly FeesFor the most part, estate planning lawyers charge a fixed fee for their services, if not, all of their services. This will allow you peace of mind to know that the flat fee is all you need to pay. You will need to understand though what, if any, the flat fee does not cover and when the attorney will charge for an additional flat fee or begin billing you on an hourly rate.
Feels RightRegardless if the attorney has all of the above requirements but does not feel right in some way then it might be best to simply walk away and find someone that you think you can place your full trust on. Ask yourself if you see yourself working with this attorney? Do you feel at ease around him or her? Does he answer your questions in a professional manner? Even if he does, keep in mind that you will be sharing all of the intimate and personal details of your life with this person. If you do not feel comfortable for some reason, then walk away and find someone who does make you feel at ease about this part of your life.
To Avoid ProbateThis is by far the most common purpose why people seek out the services of an estate planning lawyer. While most have never even heard of probate, they know one thing that it should be avoided at all costs. This comes from horror stories told by other people, by the media or told by friends and business colleagues. The vast majority of people want to avoid a situation where a judge has to decide where their property or assets go in the event of their death.
Estate Planning Can Minimize Estate TaxesPeople simply do not want the government to get their money in the event of their death. Your government is paid in the form of federal estate taxes, state inheritance taxes and more. Through careful estate planning, married couples can reduce or even potentially remove estate taxes altogether. Your estate lawyer can help you set up AB Trusts or ABC Trusts as part of their will or a revocable living trust. Also, there is a good number of estate planning methods that your lawyer can help you with that are applicable for both married and single individuals so to help make inheritance tax bills less costly.
To Prevent a MessMany prospective clients seek the advice of an estate-planning attorney because they do not want a feud or confusion to happen on who gets what after they die. In order to protect beneficiaries from bad decision-making, outside influence, creditor issues and divorcing spouses. If the beneficiary of a will happens to be a minor, US states require a guardian or conservator to be appointed in order to supervise the needs and finances of the minor until he or she reaches the age of adulthood. You can prevent family issues, including expensive legal costs by taking some time to assign a guardian and trustee for all your minor beneficiaries. If the beneficiary is an adult, but terrible at managing his or her money, a good estate planning can protect the beneficiary from outside influence including his or her own bad decisions.
At Iowa Environmental Law Update we specialize in many aspects of the law including Environmental, Estate Planning, Probate, Personal Injury, and many more legal niches.
We provide news, commentary, tips on finding the best lawyers and questions to ask. Even though most of our information is provided by people in the legal field, not all our lawyers. So please take the information on this site as informational and directional. For legal binding information you should always talk to a professional attorney.
Benson has been practising law for over 30 years specialising in corporate law, real estate, and family law. A senior partner in a prestigious firm in South Dakota, Greg loves to help out his community as well by giving free legal services from time to time.
Gregory has always been fascinate with the law and how it can help a community. He took up an Associate Degree in Criminal Justice as his stepping stone into becoming a lawyer. Currently, Gregory is part of a legal aid team for his community.
Thomas Kennedy lives and practices law in Johnson County where he specializes in Civil Rights, Environmental, and Intellectual Property Law.