The Benefits of Working With an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney
When it comes to end-of-life matters, it is wise not to wait until the very last moment to get your affairs in order. Unless you have a time machine, making changes from the afterlife isn't exactly easy. But who is the right person to help you get your affairs in order? An estate planning attorney.
Keep reading to understand how this legal expert is uniquely positioned to help make life (and death) issues a little easier.
Learn what an estate planning attorney does and how to find one with certifications you trust.
Understand the benefits of working with this type of legal professional.
Know how to prepare for your first meeting with an estate planning attorney and what you can expect from the process.
What Does an Estate Planning Attorney Do?
An estate planning attorney — also known as an “estate law attorney” or “probate attorney” — is a lawyer who specializes in all types of end–of-life matters.
They can help you:
Set up your last will and testament or living will
Name an executor to oversee your will
Set up trusts to hold your assets
Designate beneficiaries to receive your assets
Protect the assets of your retirement plan (like your 401K)
Create an advanced healthcare directive or other plan for your long-term care
Establish Power Of Attorney (someone who can make financial or medical decisions on your behalf)
Establish a legal guardian for any dependents
Draft a “letter of instruction” that outlines your specific wishes for a funeral or burial
Create a succession plan for any businesses or companies you own
An estate planning attorney can also be empowered to close out any financial dealings after your death and distribute property, a process formally known as “estate administration.”
What are the Benefits of Working with an Estate Planning Attorney?
The Internet is full of free or low-cost “do it yourself” estate planning tools, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re the best fit for you. In fact, the American Bar Association has raised concerns about some of these online options. Although convenient, they may not always be iron-clad.
Some of the benefits of working with an estate planning attorney:
They know the legal-ese.
An estate planning attorney is well-versed in what should be included in a will and what’s not necessary. For instance, some assets, like your retirement account, are transferable-upon-death. You don’t need to put them in your will, but you will need to assign beneficiaries to receive their balances.
They can counsel you through the hard stuff.
An estate planning attorney has the expertise to guide you through potentially thorny issues, such as how to divide assets equally among a large family.
They can step in and speak up.
Unfortunately, disputes about finances are all too common. If a disagreement arises after your passing, an estate planning attorney can clarify your intentions.
They understand the ins and outs of state laws.
“Probate” refers to the legal process that a person’s estate goes through after death. Your assets are reviewed and transferred to the rightful inheritors. Different states have different rules about the administration of probate, and an estate planning attorney will know them.
They can provide some accounting advice.
If any assets in your estate, such as a rental property, CDs, or mutual funds, generate income after your death, a federal income tax will need to be paid. States can also impose their own taxes. An estate planning attorney can help you plan for these fees — and look for potential tax savings for your beneficiaries.
How to Find an Estate Planning Attorney
It’s important to find an attorney who is both knowledgeable about and experienced in estate planning. Ask friends or relatives if they can make a recommendation, or check an online directory of legal professionals like Martindale Hubbell, which includes peer reviews.
Credentials to look for include:
Membership in an estate planning organization or bar association
Estate planning certification, like AEP (Accredited Estate Planner) or CTEP (Chartered Estate Trust Planner)
Fellowship in a professional college, such as The American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (ACTEC)
In some cases, you may need an estate planning lawyer who has a particular specialty or type of experience. For instance, if you have properties or investments in other countries, an estate planning attorney who’s well-versed in international estate planning will likely be the best fit.
How Much Does an Estate Planning Attorney Cost?
Estate planning attorneys often charge a flat rate for their services. A Lawyers.com survey found that a price tag between $1,000-$2,500 is common.
Depending on the assets you own, you may be able to pick and choose the specialized types of legal help you need. Asking for “unbundled” legal services is often more cost-effective. According to Lawyers.com, the average hourly fee of estate planning attorneys runs between $250-$310/hour. If you live in a metropolitan area or choose an attorney with extensive experience, that number may be higher.
Some people find estate planning attorney costs intimidating to think about. But you may be able to reduce their fee by coming prepared to your initial meeting.
How Do I Prepare to Work with an Estate Planning Attorney?
Once you find a lawyer you feel comfortable with, here is what happens next:
The more information you can share with your attorney, the better. The documentation you provide will be key.
A list of your physical assets, like your home, car, jewelry, and artwork
A list of your liabilities (such as your mortgage and credit card balances)
Copy of employee benefits
Birth and adoption certificates
Recent statements from your bank, retirement, and other investment accounts
A list of your insurance policies, including cash values and death benefits
Deeds and titles
Any prior wills
Certification of any existing trusts
Property values of your home and any other real estate you own
Intellectual property, trademark, copyright, and patent documents
Other relevant documents, like divorce papers or prenuptial agreements
Location and content of your safety deposit box or safe
Gathering all this can be time-consuming, but it is important to do, and we’re here to help. Trustworthy guides you through the process of finding and organizing these documents step-by-step. You can rest easy knowing that your sensitive information is protected and available whenever you need it.
Talk to Your Family About Your Plan
Although it may be awkward, give your family a heads up about your estate plan, including who will serve as your representative(s) in various capacities. You may find this easier to do in small, separate, and ongoing conversations rather than one big family reveal.
Some topics to cover include who you’d like to designate as:
Executor of your will
Legal guardian for your children
Financial, Legal, or Medical Power of Attorney
All estate planning attorneys should be ready to answer questions about their general process, as well as how they plan to protect and manage your specific assets. You can ask them:
How long will the estate planning process take?
What assets should be part of my estate?
How can I minimize any tax burden?
How can you be sure that my will will be carried out to my specifications?
What if I need to update my estate plan?
The estate planning process is complex, so it’s likely that you’ll have plenty of questions along the way, as well.
The more confidence you have in your attorney, the more comfortable you’ll feel working with them. With an estate planning attorney and Trustworthy, managing your end-of-life matters will be easy and straightforward.