Estate Planning Attorney
Don’t you just love these feel-good stock photos of good looking people in their 70s? Proper estate planning will leave you with all smiles and perfectly manicured hair, but it takes the right estate planning attorney. And fitness trainer. And tanning bed. We digress..
Benjamin Franklin said that there were only two things certain in life: death and taxes. We like to add a third certainty that the Bears will never win another super bowl. Hiring an estate planning attorney will reduce some of the stress that comes along with at least the first two, and a counselor can help you get over the third. So while we are on the topic of estate planning, here’s some food for thought.
Needing Legal Advice For Estate Planning
Yes. Or said another way, “Are you crazy?!” Is using the word “crazy” gone to wayside with all the other seemingly derogatory phrases? Ok, how about this- would you set your own fractured arm or would you seek the advice of a professional? Sure, YouTube videos probably have all kinds of ways to set your own broken arm, but seriously- you must seek the advice of an estate planning attorney when considering your own estate plan.
Do-it-yourself “legal” document kits are pretty easy to find in stores and online. You may have even seen advertisements which make you think that you can handle planning your estate by yourself, or by making a simple phone call and sending a wad of cash to a faceless attorney operating via the internets. Yes, plural. Frankly these DIY kits are junk. And fortunately for you, you never get to find out ’cause you’re the dead person. The dead person who saved a few bucks and left the mess behind to their heirs. Actually, leaving a mess behind for your kids is simply payback for all the dirty dishes in the sink with a perfectly empty dishwasher next to it. Back to the issue at hand..
If you choose to plan your own estate, you need to understand the laws the same way an attorney understands them so that all of the documents communicate your end-of-life wishes in a way that is legally valid while minimizing tax implications on your loved ones. Different states may have different laws, so your estate planning documents need to take your state of residence’s laws into account. For example, in 2015 the federal inheritance tax starts at $5.43 million. Not to worry, right? Well, in New Jersey it is $600,000. Oregon, $1 million. Nebraska, a sliding scale. So be careful, states can bite hard even if the feds look the other way.
As laws change, you need to keep your documents up to date with any changes in the laws. When you really think about it, doing it yourself the right way will keep you pretty busy. Writing your own estate plan is a chore. Don’t you hate doing chores? And doing it yourself may leave you not knowing for certain whether you have legally dealt with the end-of-life issues that you were trying to deal with in the first place. Are the initial savings really worth the uncertainty? Rhetorical question. The answer is NO.
It is a common misconception that only the wealthy and elderly need an attorney to draw up wills, trusts, guardianship, healthcare advance directives, and powers of attorney. The truth is that estate planning is a necessity for people of all ages and income levels, and that even relatively simple estates can be handled better, more efficiently and sometimes with less tax liability when an attorney is consulted.
Estate Planning Issues to Consider
Lots of stuff which is part and parcel why you need a professional estate planning attorney. Here is just a brief, 30,000-foot look at some of the issues that you’ll be solving.
A will is a legal document that allows you to dictate how you want your assets to be distributed upon your death. Without a legal will in place, the state will determine how your assets will be distributed according to their intestacy (when there are no wills) laws. And as a side note, a will DOES NOT AVOID probate. Myth buster.
Asset Management for Surviving Spouse
An attorney may recommend certain strategies for managing your assets that can lessen tax liability and overall complications for your surviving spouse or heirs.
Asset Protection and Trusts
Trusts can be used to shield assets from creditors and can serve as excellent planning tools when dealing with medicaid, aid and attendance benefits, medical issues, special needs children, etc. The list of things a trust or a series of trusts can accomplish is ridiculously long.
Guardianship of Dependents
If you have dependents under the age of 18 or with special needs, a will can nominate a capable guardian and prevent disputes between well meaning relatives. Attorneys dream up stuff to bother everyone with- Yes, that is true. But without a will, your money-grabbing sister or brother might be awarded guardianship of your children. Or, perhaps your sibling doesn’t have the same moral code or child-rearing objectives that you have. Well.. technically it is ‘had’ since you are now dead (sorry if that sounds harsh, but let’s leave the rainbows and flowers for another topic.. this stuff is serious). Dictate parental policy from the grave- draft a robust will!
If you are thinking about leaving a charitable gift as part of your estate, proper legal and tax advice is needed to ensure that the gift is allocated as you intended.
Regardless of your age or health status, it is important to communicate your wishes ahead of time in the event that the unthinkable happens and you become incapacitated or unable to communicate for yourself. An estate planning attorney can help you prepare an advance healthcare directive for this purpose.
Powers of Attorney
A power of attorney is a legal document that designates someone to act on your behalf in certain aspects of your life for an amount of time specified by you. The big ones are medical and durable (financial). These must be drafted, and be in accordance with current local laws. And these must be given to the people who need them, including secondary or backup representatives. Read more about power of attorney documents here.
Choosing An Estate Planning Attorney
You should an estate planning attorney purely on looks- just look at the handsome fellow on the left in the stock photo above. Just kidding. Your attorney needs to have the right credentials, plenty of experience and be trustworthy. Do you want a foot doctor performing open heart surgery? Maybe, if it’s only the two of you on a hiking trip gone bad. So, make sure it is not just any attorney. Make sure your attorney specializes in estate planning, elder law and / or medicaid planning. There are also organizations that he or she should belong to such as National Elder Law Foundation or the Wealth Counsel.
Your attorney should educate you and walk you through the entire estate planning process, and be able to tell you the consequences of each of your decisions as well as any alternatives available. Lastly, your attorney should be your personal advocate and understand your needs on a very intimate level. Too often attorneys will jam your square estate peg into their well-used round hole, and this is not a one size fits all situation. There are far too many trust mills out there- make sure your estate planning attorney customizes an estate plan for you.
Planning for the well being of your family is one of the most important decisions you will ever make. You need to have your ducks in a row and give yourself and your loved ones peace of mind. If you are in the market for a Colorado Springs Estate Planning Attorney or a Denver Estate Planning Attorney, you should have WCG (formerly Watson CPA Group) help guide you and your family in the right direction. Our firm works with several attorneys, and they are extremely reputable and can assist in most states, not just WCG (formerly Watson CPA Group)’s home state of Colorado.