As an estate planning attorney, I am often asked whether an attorney is really necessary to the process of drafting an estate plan.
This question brings a chill to the back of my neck each time I hear it for one simple reason: estate planning is serious business, and one of the most important things that you can do for yourself and your family.
We think nothing about spending money on homes, cars and vacations but often balk at spending any money at all on our estate plans. This makes no sense to me, because a well-written estate plan can save money, protect family relationships, cover you in the event of incapacity, provide for a surviving spouse, take care of needy children or grandchildren, make sure that your assets are passed in the manner that you intend and provide life changing charitable gifts to nonprofits that matter to you.
Need I say more?
Don’t Let One Mistake Void Your Entire Estate Plan
There are three primary reasons to hire an estate planning attorney.
First, it is important that you hire a qualified estate planning attorney to help you draft your documents. One wrong word or missing signature can change the entire outcome of an estate plan (even void the entire document).
The world of law has grown exponentially over the last 20 years and it helps to have an attorney who has experience drafting estate plans, especially if you have taxation issues. Word-of-mouth referrals are often best, but you can usually find qualified attorneys by contacting the State Bar of the state in which you live (and are using to draft your documents).
Another good source is Martindale Hubbell, which can be accessed online at www.martindalehubbell.com.
State Laws Apply to Estate Plans
Second, understand that state laws are very specific about what can and can’t be in a will, trust, medical or financial power of attorney; who can and can’t serve as a personal representative, trustee or attorney-in-fact; who can and can’t be a witness to legal documents and what formalities must be observed when signing these documents.
If you think you will save a few dollars by using free Internet forms or a do-it-yourself book, your family may learn the documents you drafted don’t accomplish what you intended.
If the documents are determined to be invalid, statutory intestacy laws will rule, and it’s pretty much a given that no one will inherit assets in accordance with your vision. This can cause family discord and often is much more expensive than any estate planning you could have done.
Your family may have to hire an estate planning attorney to fix mistakes that you made with only the best of intentions.
Third, estate planning attorneys can be very helpful in sorting out complex family or financial situations.
You definitely need the help of a qualified attorney if, like most people, any of the following apply:
- You’re in a second (or later) marriage
- You own a business
- You own real estate in more than one state
- You have a disabled family member
- You have minor children
- You have problem children
- You don’t have any children
- You want to leave some of your estate to charity
- You have substantial retirement assets
- You are recently divorced
- Your spouse recently passed away
- You have a taxable estate (state or federal)
Leaving a legacy is most likely to happen EXACTLY AS YOU PLAN IT when you draft your estate plan with the assistance of an experienced estate planning attorney who is licensed to practice in your state.
Do it for yourself and for those you love. Do it for the charities that match your values and passions.
Do you have questions about estate planning, planned giving or the Sun Health Foundation? Please call 623.832.5330 or email us at email@example.com for additional information.