What is Probate?
Probate, specifically, is a process that some estates go through in order to clarify where their assets are supposed to go, who will assume responsibility for any minor children, and who will oversee the settling of a person’s debts and final tax obligations before the remainder of the estate is distributed.
Probate law, generally speaking, is designed to avoid complications that can arise during the probate process as much as possible. This is done through carefully planning ahead. The time after death is not the only period that is considered. The estate planning process involves
- Getting tax obligations organized
- Considering how to handle a serious illness
- Planning for the possibility that you may need assisted living or other medical care at some point
- Making sure that you are not abused or taken advantage of by family, friends, or caretakers should you become vulnerable to this type of situation
- How to organize gifts to family, friends, and charities in a way that will allow as much of your estate as possible to go to those people and causes you care about, rather than overpaying taxes
- Assuring that the person that you choose will be able to carry out your wishes, rather than someone appointed by the court
- Indicating any final plans or wishes regarding a funeral, memorial, or final resting place
What is Estate Planning?
Estate Planning is a collection of tasks that serve to manage one’s asset base after death including dividing up assets to heirs and the settlement of estate taxes. Some elements of estate planning could include:
- Creation of a will
- Naming of an executor for the will to carry out its terms
- Arranging for someone to manage other investments or assets through a durable power of attorney
- Preplanning funeral arrangements
- Setting up trust accounts in the names of beneficiaries in order to reduce estate taxes
- Establishing annual charity contributions that will reduce taxable estate
- Creating or updating beneficiaries on qualifying accounts such as life insurance and retirement accounts
- Naming a guardian for living dependents
Do I need to hire an Estate Planning Lawyer?
While technically it is possible to obtain legal forms in order to make plans for an estate without hiring a lawyer, most of the time an expert should be consulted before filing documents with the court. Filling out legal forms incorrectly can potentially nullify them. In the case of wills or other estate related documents, errors might not be discovered until after death, which can cause delays in finalizing the terms of your will or even cause the court to override your intentions.
In some cases, looking at these forms may help you organize your estate, which may be helpful when you meet with the attorney and give you a place to start. The extent to which you will need an attorney’s assistance depends on factors such as the amount of assets owned, whether or not a business is owned, concerns about medical care and power of attorney, the needs of minor children or other dependents.
Even when assets do not add up to enough to go into the probate process, seeing that your affairs are taken care of if you become incapacitated, and tending to the needs of your children are often enough to warrant a consultation, and possibly retain a lawyer for some services.
How do I choose an Attorney?
Since whatever you plan to take care of your loved ones or yourself after your death or incapacity is a sensitive matter both emotionally and financially, it’s important to really pay attention as you select someone to work with on these matters. Here are some things to pay attention to:
When you first call law offices, trust your first impression. How is the phone answered? What do they tell you about the price of your initial consultation? Even before going in, you can get a feel for whether the office is well organized and how available an attorney will be.
Communication About Billing and Service
Billing and services should be among the first things explained. What services are included in any stated flat fee? Are things like reviewing legal documents or updating them included? See that they are willing to do more than file papers. They should verify that assets and business are well structured and compliant, and have enough knowledge about related financial issues such as college funding or retirement planning, or general business to be helpful in these areas. Get a feel for their level of sensitivity and ability to help you pass on nonmonetary wealth, such as your values and who you are as a person.
How much does it really cost for estate planning services and is it really worth it?
By taking the time to formally plan what will happen with your estate, you can help to make it easier for those left behind after your death to follow your wishes, and obtain their inheritance with fewer complications. At Wright Probate, we handle a variety tasks relating to estate planning law. If you’ve been thinking it is time to start making arrangements, contact us to set up a consultation.