Estate planning is essentially an instruction manual that guides other individuals on how to manage and distribute a person’s property, personal belongings, and/or assets (i.e., the estate), when they are deceased or if they become incapacitated.
Many of the legal issues surrounding estate planning are quite complex. Thus, it is very important for the appointed representative of a deceased person’s estate (i.e., the executor or administrator) to work closely with an estate planning attorney in order to simplify the process as much as possible.
The following is a list of some examples of the types of matters that estate planning attorneys may handle:
- Preparing and drafting a person’s will;
- Setting-up a living trust;
- Finding ways to help reduce estate taxes;
- Determining how to legally avoid the probate process (e.g., using gifts or trusts);
- Creating power of attorney documents; and
- Updating estate plans when necessary (e.g., in accordance with new estate planning laws or when changing the terms of a will).
Basically, a person may retain an estate planning attorney when they want to draw up a will or to figure out what to do in the event of their death or incapacitation. The attorney will then meet with the party to assess what they would like to achieve with their plans (e.g., who they want their property and assets to go to), what the proper legal instruments are to obtain their goals, and how to best minimize risks or future legal disputes.
In addition, estate planning attorneys can offer valuable insight regarding a person’s plan’s because they know how to design these documents down to the slightest detail. They are even trained to think about issues that you yourself may not have thought about, such as:
- Whether or not you want to donate your organs after passing;
- Which persons will be responsible for caring for your minor children;
- How you want to dispose of your digital property (e.g., social media accounts);
- What individuals will be in charge of your business interests (if any); and
- How you wish to receive medical treatment for certain ailments or procedures.
What are the Benefits of Creating an Estate Plan?
There are many benefits that can come from creating an estate plan. Some of these benefits include:
- Ensuring that property and/or assets will be distributed to the right persons (i.e., beneficiaries);
- Reducing the amount of taxes and other costs that the estate may have to pay out;
- Avoiding the possibility of making family members go through the probate process;
- Minimizing the risk of future legal disputes between family members and the estate;
- Making sure that a business continues to run well even after a person’s death; and
- Providing simple guidance to loved ones about property matters, medical treatments, and funeral arrangements, so they will not have to worry about making such decisions at a difficult time.
Lastly, the most important benefit that an estate plan offers is future protection for family members and other loved ones because it lays out an individual’s last wishes and prevents their property from going to the wrong parties or being taken by the state via intestate laws.
How Much Does It Cost to Draft an Estate Plan?
The cost to create an estate plan will vary according to a number of factors. In general, the two main factors that cost usually depends on include: what type of plan is needed (e.g., what legal documents) and how the attorney bills (e.g., flat fee versus hourly fee).
Other factors might include how much experience the attorney has, what state the plan is being formed in, how complicated or in-depth the plan is, and the value of the assets or estate. There may also be associated filing costs.
For example, when an estate plan only contains a living trust, then a person may be able to create and file a living trust by downloading forms from their local court’s website. The whole process could cost them less than $100.
However, in order to ensure that the living trust documents are legally enforceable, valid, and include all of the proper assets, a person should really consider hiring an attorney. It can save their loved ones from having to battle any disputes out in court in the future.
Again, how much the attorney costs will depend on the fee arrangement, location, attorney expertise, and so on. Thus, an attorney can cost anywhere from $200 to $2,000 dollars, depending on the circumstances. This also may vary depending on whether or not the cost includes the necessary filing fee, which is provided by the local court.
Therefore, estate planning costs are generally unique to the individual and their situation. The best way for an individual to keep costs low is to determine what they want to accomplish beforehand and come prepared with a list of items they wish to discuss.
Is Creating an Estate Plan the Same as Probate?
Estate planning and probate are two separate procedures. Estate planning may involve documents that go through probate like a will, but it really applies to anything from assigning power of attorney for medical decisions to distributing assets through a living will. Estate planning basically designs a plan for everything and anything included in an estate. As mentioned, it also can be used to minimize estate taxes and to avoid probate.
On the other hand, probate is the legal process in which a court oversees all things related to a will, such as establishing the will’s validity, administering the estate, and appointing or approving guardianships of an estate. Probate deals strictly with wills and will contests.
So, for example, if a party decides to draft a will as part of their estate plan, then once they are deceased the will must go through the probate process in order to validate the document and its contents. This means that expenses will have to be paid out for both the estate planning stages and the probate process.
In contrast, if a person chooses to create a living trust instead as part of their estate plan, then they can avoid the probate process entirely. Although the cost of setting-up a living trust may be more than a will, it might save time and money in-the long run since it negates the need for the probate process.
Additionally, even if a person decides to create a will as part of their estate plan, they may include enough details in their plan so that the majority of their assets are given away through methods that do not require probate. They could then save the major items, such as a house, as part of their will, which can make the probate process relatively simple (as opposed to every individual piece of personal property, e.g., jewelry, etc.).
How Do I Find an Estate Planning Attorney?
There are several ways to go about finding an estate planning attorney. First, you can ask your network of family and friends for a recommendation. If they do not have any or if you do not feel comfortable asking, then you can conduct a simple online search.
Another good resource you can use to find an estate planning attorney is by visiting your state or local bar association’s website. Depending on the state, these websites may be able to provide you with an attorney’s direct contact information or may recommend an attorney referral service program.
Finally, LegalMatch is also a great resource to use when searching for a local estate planning attorney. Click here to begin your search!