A Primer on Estate Planning
Common questions we hear in the area of estate planning.
As attorneys who deal in probates and estates (among many other areas), we get plenty of questions about what it is we do. We understand that if you have never needed a lawyer before, finding the right one can be a daunting task. And that’s why we work to answer common questions here on our blog.
We’re devoting today’s blog post to a handful of common questions we hear in the area of estate planning.
What Is Estate Planning?
Estate planning essentially is making sure that your family and loved ones are provided for when you become incapacitated or pass away. It’s more than just a simple will. It can encompass guardianships, trusts, powers of attorney, directives to physicians and other relationships with medical professionals.
Who Is Estate Planning For?
There is a common misconception that estate planning is only important for people with a certain amount of wealth or with significant assets that would need to be distributed at their death. Certainly the importance of having an estate plan goes up for such individuals, as does the complexity of the plan.
But basic estate planning is of vital importance to just about everyone, regardless of wealth or assets.
What is the First Step of Estate Planning?
Most clients that come to us for estate planning counsel already have some of the individual pieces in place. They may have a will (though it may be out of date), and if they have children, they probably have some guardianships in writing.
We encourage clients to review what legal documents they already have as a starting place. If these need to be updated, then we can build out the rest of the plan around the existing documents.
When Is the Right Time to Start Estate Planning?
We frequently hear from clients who are preparing to leave town on a trip and want to make sure their affairs are in order. And while this is forward thinking, it’s not the best approach. You don’t want to be rushed.
Enter into estate planning when you have time to reflect on the choices you’re making. You will want to review the draft documents, and in most cases, you will want to communicate changes to your plan to loved ones. (The same goes if you’re establishing a plan for the first time.)
Is Estate Planning for People of a Certain Age?
No, estate planning is for pretty much any adult at any age. The notion that people don’t need to worry about it until their 50s is another common misconception.
Rather than age, consider your life stage and what the impact on your loved ones would be if you died or became incapacitated. When thinking this way, the trigger for many people (including myself) to begin estate planning is the birth of a child. Certainly, if someone is depending on you for care, you need a plan.
How Frequently Should an Estate Plan Be Revised?
Any significant change in your life’s circumstances warrants revisiting your estate plan. If you have another child, marry, divorce, lose a parent, acquire assets, or buy or sell a business, you’ll want to consider those events in your estate plan. Similarly, if you or people named in your estate plan documents move away or simply drift apart, you may need to revisit your plans.
Can’t I Make an Estate Plan Myself?
Yes, it’s possible to “DIY” your estate plan, but we don’t recommend it. It’s always best to have your documents formulated by an attorney who is experienced in probate and estate planning.
A Will prepared without the help of an attorney can sometimes be legally valid, but there are often problems that lead to delays, additional expense, or even to the Will being declared incomplete or not enforceable to some degree, and assets passing according to the laws of intestacy.
As probate attorneys we have seen this many times in our practice. The sad reality is that cases that go through heirship proceedings are more expensive, and assets are not always distributed in line with decedent’s wishes.
For this reason, we cannot recommend “DIY” estate plans. Work with an established attorney practice to create your plan and avoid the possibility of causing grief for your loved ones after your death.