Estate Planning is the process of evaluating a person’s family and assets and drafting appropriate documents that reflect their wishes about what they want to have happen to their assets after they die. It also involves documents applicable during life, such as advance directives which include a Durable Power of Attorney (who they wish to handle their financial matters), Designation of Health Care Surrogate (who they want to make medical decisions for them), and a Living Will (end of life guidance). Estate Planning should be comprehensive, and it is not just about writing a simple will. It is about evaluating the person’s entire life status to determine the most appropriate documents and techniques needed to accomplish the person’s goals.
Avoid or Minimize Estate and Inheritance Taxes
A properly drafted plan can also accomplish estate tax planning and help reduce estate taxes, which are the taxes owed by your estate after you die.
Estate Planning to Minimize Probate
When a person dies with an asset in individual name and no beneficiary, the asset needs to go through a court-supervised process called “probate” to get it to whomever it is supposed to go to. There are a few techniques to reduce that or avoid it entirely. The most popular technique for minimizing or avoiding provide is the use of a revocable trust to hold title to assets. The key to it working properly is to retitle assets during life to the name of the trust. By retitling assets out of the individual name, probate can be avoided on those assets. The revocable trust document will also set out how the assets are to be used during life and how they will be distributed at death.
Consulting a Qualified Attorney for Estate Planning
It is not always required to consult an attorney, but failure to meet with an estate planning attorney to have the proper documents done with the appropriate advice and guidance could lead to unintended consequences. If somebody goes to LegalZoom, or buys a form, or uses a program like WillMaker, and drafts their own estate planning documents, there is no guarantee that the documents will be valid or will work as the person wishes. They may not be validly signed and executed according to state law. They may not comply with state law. They may not address all of the assets, or they may have provisions that do not make sense for administration reasons. If you do not know the laws of the particular state you live in, you could have a Will or other documents that will not work as you intend. Proper guidance and advice from an attorney are always recommended.