Disclaimer: Find a trusted estate planning attorney, and hire them. This is not intended to provide any legal advice. Additionally, every state has different laws governing how assets within a marriage is treated, how probate is structure (or avoided) after death, and many more variables.
That being said, there are basic estate planning considerations everyone should consider. My goal is to prepare you to interview and choose an estate planning attorney, as opposed to providing any estate planning legal advice myself (as I’m not an attorney, after all!).
So, start asking friends and family in your community if they have a recommendation for an estate planning attorney, and keep asking until you have at least three names. Schedule an interview with each (which should be free), and ask him/her these questions:
- Is the state that you live in a joint property state? lf you are married, how does that affect you?
- If you do not live in a joint property state, and are married, how does that impact your estate planning? With you need two separate trusts, one for each spouse? If so, will you need to pay for two complete trusts or will a discount on the second one be offered?
- Ask the attorney to describe the difference between a Trust and a Will, and explain to you how they work together. Confirm that the attorney will be preparing both.
- Will your estate planning needs be offered for a package price, or on an hourly basis? If it is hourly, what is the estimate of hours that will be billed for your estate planning needs?
- Ask the attorney to help you itemize your assets that will be held in the name of the trust (generally real estate and bank accounts), and ask them to explain the advantages to this.
- How does he/she they suggest minimizing any potential estate taxes, inheritance taxes, capital gains on liquidated investments upon death, etc.?
- Confirm that the estate planning attorney is comfortable working with your financial advisor.
- Confirm that any life insurance policies you own will be included in your estate plan, and all beneficiary information updated and brought current.
Ask that the answers to these questions are put in writing, and provide that to you by email or regular mail.
The term “estate planning” is quite intimidating to most people, and it is a common mistaken belief that only the wealthy need concern themselves with estate planning. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Without an estate plan, your assets could end up in probate court, which in some states is backed up for years. To ensure a smooth transition of your assets to your loved ones, the distribution of your assets in accordance to your wishes, and to mitigate estate taxes, estate planning is absolutely critical.