Very few people go to law school with the intent to become an estate planning attorney. However, I have found that estate planning attorneys meet and serve very nice and responsible people. After all, the people making an estate plan do so in order to properly plan for how their assets will be distributed to their loved ones and/ or beloved charitable organizations after their death.
I first learned the value of proper estate planning when I settled the final affairs of my father. Fortunately, he had created a living trust and other estate planning documents that allowed me to settle his estate without supervision of the probate court and with very minimal assistance of an attorney. As his personal representative after his death, I was very grateful for his prior planning.
Do I need an estate plan?
The answer is most likely yes. Anyone with assets (which is just about all of us), needs an estate plan --- ranging from a simple will to a full estate plan that may include a living revocable trust, pour over wills, a durable power of attorney, final heath care directives, and possibly irrevocable trusts to handle certain special situations. However, studies have indicated that the majority of adults do not even have a simple will, yet they believe they know how their assets will be distributed when they die. In reality, they are often wrong. One should not let their life’s accumulation of assets be distributed simply by leaving it to the “laws of intestate succession” to determine the distribution when one has the ability to decide exactly how to distribute their assets.
So, what kind of estate plan do I need? Well, it depends and I can help you determine what is best for your particular situation. Do you have over $150,000 in assets that will be distributed upon death? Do you have children from a previous marriage? Do you own property in various States? Do you have business interests that need to be distributed? Do you have a beloved grandchild that you want to be sure has an educational fund created? All these questions and many more will factor into your estate planning needs.
What about Probate?
Probate is a court supervised process to distribute the assets of a deceased person. If I have a will, are my assets subject to probate? In most cases, the answer is yes. Probate can be expensive and often a long process. Attorney fees are governed by the probate code and for a million dollar estate settlement it may cost up to $23,000 in attorney fees. And, this does not include other fees for probate referees, document fees, court costs, etc. However, probate is avoidable when a person’s assets are held in trust and distributed under the terms of the trust. Why pay an attorney and others thousands of dollars to settle your probate estate when you would rather have that money go to your loved ones? A properly structured estate plan will avoid probate.