Many times I meet prospective clients who do not have an estate plan in place and are ready to use an online service to prepare wills, advanced directives, and even trusts. Every time I implore them to use a licensed, experienced, estate planning attorney to draft these crucial documents so that their wishes, concerning end of life matters and property distribution, are fully realized. Online services often create a landmine of mistakes from improper execution (does the document require witnesses or notarization) to overly broad wording that can lead to questions about the intent of the testator. Ultimately, these oversights can void the documents all together and lead to more expensive legal bills later on.
What is the goal of estate planning? The American Bar Association defines an ‘estate plan’ as your blueprint for where you want your property to go after you die and the marching orders for those you select to manage your affairs if you die or become disabled. In its purest sense, estate planning transfers one’s property to others at the time of death; this property may include land, bank accounts, stocks, vehicles and personal possessions. A properly executed estate plan equips a person to choose, after her death, who will receive and when they receive particular assets.
Estate planning is affordable. Attorneys often offer free initial consultations or for a reduced fee, which may be applied to future billing. The consultation determines exactly what you need and provides an estimate of a total cost. Additionally, many attorneys offer flat-fee rates, which can be as low as a few hundred dollars.
Avoid pitfalls. An attorney asks questions about your life circumstances and can troubleshoot potential issues. Divorce, strained relations with family members, moving to another state, the birth of children, among others, are common scenarios that can create big changes to an estate plan.
More than just a will. Estate planning documents include not just a will but other critical documents like medical powers of attorney (allows someone to make medical decisions on your behalf in case of incapacity), a living will (your wishes concerning life-extending treatments) power of attorney (pay bills and make other financial decisions), and other documents, like burial plans.
Personalized attention. An attorney acts as a starting point of real human contact upon your death rather than an 800 number or email address. Furthermore, the attorney acts as a point of stability and continuum between your final wishes and the real execution of those wishes.
Estate taxes on both the local and federal levels. Estate tax laws change constantly and a licensed attorney stays up-to-date with learning about the latest changes in tax laws.