An estate lawyer is an expert that can draft various documents used for estate planning and asset transferring. This includes documents like living wills, powers of attorney and trusts. In addition, an estate lawyer can help their clients manage their estate so that property can be transferred to their loved ones following their passing.
Attorneys that focus on estate law function similarly to attorneys who provide family law services. That’s because an estate lawyer must establish a relationship with their client and some of their family members. For this reason, it is essential that you find an estate lawyer that you are comfortable speaking and sharing personal details with. The more detailed you can be with an attorney regarding your estate, the better. If the attorney has deep knowledge of how your estate is organized, they will be better equipped for probate and helping your family mitigate estate taxes.
Here is what an estate lawyer can do for you and your family:
Draft a living will – If you do nothing else to organize your affairs before passing, have a living will drafted. A will acts like a set of instructions for the court to follow once you have passed away. In general, this will concern who receives what, and this structure ensures that probate proceeds quickly and smoothly. Without a living will, the court will have to follow the state’s guidelines for distributing property, and there may be significant discrepancies between how you would distribute the estate’s assets and how the state will do it. This is the reason it’s important to make your wishes known in advance and in writing.
A living will also allows people to name guardians for their children, dictate how taxes and debts are paid, how pets are handled and who is named executor (the person responsible for executing your will and ensuring your requests are carried out).
A will can do a lot of things, but if you want to quickly get property into the hands of your beneficiaries, you will need more than a will.
Create a living trust – A living trust is a popular option for estate owners that want to pass on property directly to a beneficiary, without the property having to pass through probate. Avoiding probate in this manner ensures the beneficiary receives their inheritance much faster. Probate can take months or a couple years to resolve, while a trust is transferred to the beneficiary within weeks. Further, a trust provides a measure of privacy, as any transactions involving a trust are not made public. This isn’t the case with a will, which is part of the public record.
Trusts offer some additional benefits as well, like ensuring a beneficiary has control of the trust should you become incapacitated and protecting the beneficiary should the distribution of your estate’s assets be disputed by another party. A trust, in this instance, will be a compelling piece of evidence for the court that your assets are being handled in a manner you see fit.
Draw up a power of attorney – Estate planning is about planning for the inevitable, but before passing on, an estate owner may be mentally limited by illness. If there is no plan in place for this possibility, there will be confusion as to how to manage the estate.
This is where a power of attorney comes in. A power of attorney, or POA, allows a named person to act as your representative, in some ways, should you no longer have the ability to make decisions regarding the estate or your own health. Think of a power of attorney as an essential backup plan.
There are several forms of POA, including financial or health care POAs. A health care POA, for example, allows the named individual to make medical decisions for you, such as treatment options.
Estate owners can grant any adult they deem fit with a POA. It is important to pick someone you have complete trust in, as they will have considerable power over your estate and/or healthcare decisions.
Help avoid taxes and preserve assets for beneficiaries – Estate taxes can be substantial on a larger estate, so one of an estate lawyer’s primary jobs is to avoid taxes as much as possible. There are several ways to do this, and an estate lawyer will consider them all for their client. For example, estate owners (and any individual, for that matter) can gift up to $12,000 to any number of people, every year, without incurring a tax. The estate owner’s spouse can also provide gifts in this way, bringing the total up to $24,000 every year. Over the course of many years, estate owners can gift assets to their beneficiaries in this manner, reducing their future tax burden.
Estate lawyers will also use tax deductions, charitable transfers, annuities, family partnerships and the like to soften the tax burden. As these options can be difficult to understand without the requisite legal knowledge, it’s crucial that an estate lawyer oversee the process from the outset.
Answer the important questions – Estate owners want to know what will happen to their children and treasured belongings after they pass on. An estate lawyer can answer these questions and translate their client’s concerns into an actionable plan that leaves no doubt.
Estate planning is the most effective means of ensuring your wishes are carried out once you are gone. An estate lawyer makes the process as simple and quick as possible, while protecting your interests, no matter what the future holds.