Hiring an estate planning attorney can ease estate planning angst and ensure inheritance property is protected after death. Lawyers who specialize in this field of law can help individuals develop estate planning strategies through executing a last Will or establishing a trust.
Working with an estate planning attorney is particularly important when estates must undergo the probate process. Probate is necessary to ensure rightful heirs receive inheritance assets and to settle decedents’ estates. Probate settlement procedures are prolonged when decedents die without leaving a valid Will.
At minimum, estate planning should consist of a last will and testament, designation of power of attorney rights, and a healthcare proxy. When estates are valued at $100,000 or more it can be beneficial to establish a trust.
The type of trust depends on a variety of factors. Some trusts offer periodical cash distributions which can be beneficial when beneficiaries receive government benefits. Others offer tax-saving advantages. Trusts allow for ease of property distribution to heirs because inheritance assets secured by trusts are exempt from probate.
Estate planning lawyers can help individuals with small estates take measures to avoid probate. Some of the more common strategies include establishing beneficiaries for financial accounts, investment portfolios, and titled property.
The last Will is one of the most important documents of estate planning. It can be used to appoint a probate personal representative or Trustee to manage estate settlement duties. Wills are used to bequeath inheritance property or disinherit heirs. It is also used to appoint guardianship for minor children.
The Will can include details regarding burial preferences and inform the estate administrator of the location of life insurance policies. Important records such as real estate deeds, automobile titles, and property appraisals for valuable items can be noted within the last Will. In essence, the Will is a legal record that summarizes important aspects of decedents’ final wishes.
Some people hire an estate planning attorney to settle their estate. This can be beneficial when family strife exists. It is common practice for individuals to appoint family members as their probate personal representative. However, this can create heavy burdens for loved ones.
Unfortunately, death can bring out the worst in people. As a probate liquidator, I have witnessed many family disputes arise over distribution of inheritance property. When family members are in charge of settling estates, it is not uncommon for remaining family members to claim the designated representative is not handling the case appropriately. Nor, is it uncommon for heirs to contest the Will if they feel slighted.
Contesting a probate estate can have devastating financial effects; especially for small estates. The estate must have adequate finances to pay for defense legal fees. This often leads to the forced sale of inheritance property, which takes away gifts intended for heirs.
Designating an estate planning lawyer as the estate administrator can sometimes circumvent heirs from contesting the Will or minimize the financial impact. This can also remove family members from the hot seat if disputes arise.
It is best to establish the last will and testament while in good health. When people wait until they are terminally ill they leave their estate vulnerable to having the Will contested. Heirs can easily claim the decedent was not of sound mind when the documents were executed.
While estate planning does not provide an ironclad guarantee that your estate will be insulated from lawsuits or Will contesting, it does minimize the risks. When heirs get along well, estate planning minimizes the time required to settle your estate.
If possible, obtain referrals from family or friends. Otherwise, visit the American Bar Association website at abanet.org to locate a local estate planning attorney.
American Bar Association: Estate Planning Basics