Estate planning is serious business. Any wrong words, misspellings or a missing signature can cause uproar and misuse of power in the family.
A lawyer’s help can make all the difference when planning your estate.
Unless you have a legal background and experience with state probate laws, it is critical to hire a lawyer who specializes in estate planning, because state laws vary state by state. The lawyer should be competent in estate law, and preferably in the probate court that’s handling your will. Your executor may be tempted to use a regular lawyer, friend or relative who is a lawyer. But if that lawyer primarily handles business transactions, or practices in another state, he or she may not be familiar enough with estate law in your area to handle the job efficiently.
If you consider yourself apart of any of these categories, you should hire a lawyer:
- You were married more than once
- You own a business
- You have a disabled family member
- You have minor children
- You want to leave some or all of your estate to charity
- You have substantial assets in 401(k)s and/or IRAs
- You were recently divorced
- You recently lost a spouse or other family member
- You have a taxable estate for federal and/or state estate tax purposes
- You own real estate in more than one state
Even if you believe not having a lawyer handle your estate may save a few bucks, it potentially could cost you more in the long run when everything is said and done. Especially when the probate court decides your will, trust, medical or financial power of attorney isn’t legally valid. Then, thousands of dollars will be spent on hiring a lawyer to fix those mistakes.
We suggest you give specific instructions in your will or estate plan to the executor on how you want your wishes to be carried out.
The power you give to your executor depend on:
- how much do you trust your executor,
- how much expertise he or she has in legal and financial matters
- your state’s law,
- what your estate consists of
Besides taking the burden off your executor (especially important if it’s your spouse) and bringing expertise to your estate administration, you will also forestall any second guessing or complaints by relatives or beneficiaries about how the money is spent if you hire a lawyer or accountant. A professional neutral fiduciary allows for a third-party to assess the estate without conflict of interest.
Even if there are no challenges apparent during the estate planning process, there are just too many ways things can go wrong.
Basic questions to think about:
- Who gets what?
- Are the gifts conditional on anything?
- What if that person predeceases you? Who should be in charge?
- What if that person is unable or unwilling?
- What kind of funeral service do you want?
- Who will be the guardian of any children?.
- Provide copies of grant deeds to any real estate you own. This is very helpful as often such property will be placed into a revocable living trust.