What Are Estate Planning Lawyers?
An estate planning lawyer specializes in the laws that govern estate plans. These vary by state, which means lawyers in this specialty know the laws in their state of practice. They help clients in that state by advising them on estate planning and preparing the necessary legal documents.
What Does an Estate Planning Lawyer Do?
The main roles of estate planning lawyers are to advise their clients and to prepare the documents they need to carry out their estate plans. This involves a lot of different considerations. Every client has different needs, so estate planning lawyers can provide several tailored services:
- Draft last will and testament
- Draft living wills
- Create a plan to lower taxes paid on assets and inheritances
- Assign beneficiaries
- Establish trusts
- Prepare directives for medical care and power of attorney
- Strategize to minimize probate involvement
Do I Really Need an Estate Planning Lawyer?
Even people with simple estates and few assets should work with a lawyer for the bare minimum of estate planning. State laws are numerous and complicated. You can easily make a mistake when trying to go it alone to draft a will or set up a power of attorney.
No matter the size of your estate, consult with a lawyer to finalize your plans. It is especially important to have a lawyer if you have complicating circumstances: a blended family or second marriage, businesses, property in more than one state, minor children, a taxable estate.
What Can an Estate Planning Lawyer Do to Help Me?
You may be tempted to estate plan without a lawyer. Maybe you think having few assets or no dependent children means you don’t need a lawyer. While this is technically true, there are many good reasons to use a lawyer anyway.
If you have a simple estate, it won’t cost much to have an estate planning lawyer advise you and go over your paperwork. And if you have a more complicated estate, they can do several more things to help you through the process:
- Explain the laws
Probate and estate laws are different in every state, and they can be confusing. They also change from time to time. You need a lawyer with in-depth knowledge to make sure you understand what you can and cannot do in estate planning.
- Customize your will
It’s easy to find a template for a will, but only an experienced lawyer can draft a document that really meets your needs. Most people don’t fit into a generic template.
- Minimize probate
Probate is the legal process of distributing assets after a death. If you don’t have a good estate plan in place, the process can be lengthy, and you have no say in where your assets go. Your lawyer can ensure you create a plan that minimizes probate.
- Minimize taxes
Your beneficiaries may have to pay taxes on what they inherit from you. Estate taxes vary by state, and some estates are subject to federal taxes as well. An experienced estate lawyer knows how to strategize to minimize or eliminate taxes so your beneficiaries get more.
- Make updates to your plan
An estate plan should never be set in stone. As circumstances and laws change, so should your strategy. A lawyer you trust can get in touch with you every few years to make necessary updates.
What to Look for in an Estate Planning Lawyer
Estate planning requires knowledge of a wide range of state laws that impact the decisions you make. It also requires financial expertise. Don’t settle for a lawyer without specific expertise and experience in helping clients with estate plans. It’s too complicated for a general lawyer or someone with another type of specialty. Look for these factors when choosing the right lawyer:
- A practice devoted entirely or mostly to estate planning
- A thorough and complete understanding of the state laws that apply to you
- Experience working with similar clients
- References from satisfied past clients
- Fees you can afford and a payment structure that meets your needs
Make sure you choose someone you feel comfortable working with. You need to share a lot of personal information with an estate planning lawyer. Some sources for finding an estate lawyer include:
- Family or friends who have worked with a lawyer for their estates
- Your financial planner or accountant
- Your state bar association
- A lawyer you know who can refer a colleague
- The American College of Trust and Estate Counsel
How to Work with Estate Planning Lawyers
As with any type of legal situation, your lawyer can help you best if you provide them with all the information. Having all the relevant information and paperwork ready for a meeting with your lawyer can save you time and money in terms of estate planning.
Gather information and relevant documents for property you own, bank accounts, retirement and pension accounts, debts, and any other valuable assets you own.
Be prepared, not just with paperwork but also with goals you want to accomplish. You may not know exactly how you want to handle your estate, which is part of what a lawyer can help you clarify. However, you should have given it some thought and have a general idea of what you want to do.
Working with estate planning lawyers is a smart way to ensure you understand the laws in your state and devise a plan that meets your needs. Tackling estate planning alone is fraught with pitfalls, but with the right lawyer, you can get it done with peace of mind.