FAQ’s for Estate Attorneys

FAQ’s for estate attorneys can vary in complexity. Here are some common questions.

What is estate planning?

Estate planning is making a plan for who will receive your assets upon your death. Your assets include your property, money, investment accounts, personal items, life insurance, anything that you can claim as yours. The reason you want to plan ahead for what will happen to your estate is to avoid probate for your loved ones and so they have a clear plan as to what to do once you are gone. An estate attorney will be able to help you create the right estate plan for you and your family. Learn more here.

How does estate planning work?

How estate planning works is that once you pass away, the documents in your estate plan will lay out a clear guideline for how you wished your assets to be disbursed. Many times having the right estate plan will help to avoid certain taxes as well, which will keep more of your money in your family. Your plan should be tailored to your life and your situation specifically by an estate attorney. Make sure you are consulting with a professional estate attorney in your state who can guide you through the process. Laws can vary by state and your situation may call for a more extensive plan. Learn more here.

What estate planning documents do I need?

While every situation is different and you should consult a professional to create your estate plan, here are some common documents that everyone should have:

  • Will and/or Trust
  • Living Will
  • Power of Attorney

Learn more here.

Who needs estate planning?

No matter what stage of life you are in, it’s important to have your affairs in order, whatever they may be for your situation. Everyone over the age of 18 can benefit from an estate plan. If anything were to happen to you, having a plan will protect you and your loved ones from unnecessary stress and grief. Once someone turns 18, they may not have much in terms of assets, but they should make sure there are protections in place for medical information and decisions. Estate plans can build from there as you move through life. Once you start accumulating more wealth, get married, have kids, etc., your plan should be updated accordingly. Learn more here.

Do you need an estate plan or will?

You don’t NEED an estate plan or will, but the consequences of not having a plan far outweigh taking the time to put your plan in place. This is one of the main FAQ’s for estate attorneys. A will or estate plan will help your loved ones in either an emergency in which you become incapacitated, or in the event of your death, be prepared during a time of grief. They will know what your wishes are, what needs to be done, and most of all they will know that they are protected. Having an estate plan or will also keeps your loved ones from going through the probate process, where they would need to fight for your assets and potentially lose parts of your estate.

What is a will or trust?

A Will is a legal document that states your wishes for what you would like to happen to your assets after you pass away. A Trust is similar to a will, but offers further protections for your assets and your loved ones. Both documents will identify an executor to handle the responsibility of settling your affairs as well as who will be inheriting your assets or personal property. To learn more about the differences between wills and trusts, read our blog post here.

What is a Power of Attorney?

A power of attorney (POA) is a legal document that lets you appoint someone to make decisions and act on your behalf. A POA can be appointed for financial and health care decisions.

Why does everyone need an estate plan?

Everyone needs an estate plan regardless of wealth, age, or marital status. Anyone over the age of 18 can benefit from some sort of estate planning documents. Having an estate plan protects your assets, your healthcare decisions, and your loved ones. There is always something that can be protected with an estate plan.

What happens if I die without a will?

Another one of the main FAQ’s for Estate Attorneys, is what happens if you die without a will? Without a will, your loved ones will need to go through the probate system to be granted the right to control your assets. This means that the decision of who will inherit or have access to your assets and personal property, will be made by your state government. It’s common that the court would appoint your spouse and children as beneficiaries of your estate, but cases may vary depending on your circumstances. Read more about what happens if you die without a will here.

Do I need to make health care decisions in my estate planning?

Estate planning isn’t just about what happens to your possessions after you die. It’s also about making sure your wishes are followed regarding your medical care in case you are unable to make decisions for yourself due to illness or injury.

Do you need an attorney for estate planning?

The simple answer is yes. As another main FAQ’s for estate attorneys, it’s important to understand that a DIY estate plan may not ensure your wishes will be followed when the time comes. You want someone who is a professional in estate planning who can make sure that all of your goals are met with your estate plan. Whether you have a modest amount of assets, or your personal situation is more complicated, it’s always best to consult with an estate planning attorney to make sure your estate plan will work when the time comes. DIY estate planning may leave your loved ones with issues you may not even be aware of after you’re gone. An estate planning attorney will make sure there will be a smooth transition of your assets and that your loved ones don’t have to deal with the probate process, which takes time and could cut into any assets you may be leaving them. 

What do estate planning attorneys look for?

Estate planning attorneys look for what is needed to best protect you and your loved ones in the case of incapacitation or death. Estate planning attorneys take into consideration your lifestyle and your situation to determine what the best plan would be for you. Estate planning attorneys also help guide you through the various stages of life. Maybe you are just starting out with a moderate amount of assets, your attorney will suggest your best plan options but then advise you on how to add to that as your life changes. If you are further along in life, there are probably other considerations that should be acknowledged in your estate planning. Tax considerations are also another factor that an estate planning attorney will look for when creating your estate plan. Overall an estate planning attorney should be looking out for how to keep your wealth in your family’s hands and keep you protected in the case of incapacitation, while also helping you leave behind the legacy that you want. 

How often should I update my estate plan?

  • Every 3-5 years: This is a good general rule of thumb to make sure your plan reflects any changes in life circumstances or laws.

  • After a major life event: This could include things like marriage, divorce, birth, death of a beneficiary, or a significant change in your assets.

Even if you haven’t had any major life changes, it’s still a good idea to review your estate plan periodically to make sure it’s up-to-date. You can also schedule a review with your estate planning attorney at the same time you review your overall financial plan.

How do I choose who will inherit my assets?

Deciding who will inherit your assets is a personal choice that requires considering several factors. Here are some key questions to guide you:

  • Family: Do you have a spouse, children, grandchildren, or other close relatives? These are often the natural first choices for inheritance.

  • Needs and Desires: Consider the financial needs and desires of your potential beneficiaries. Is one child financially struggling while another is well-off? Do you have a grandchild you’d like to help with education costs?

  • Values: Do you want to leave a legacy that reflects your values? Perhaps you have a favorite charity or cause you’d like to support.

  • Relationships: Are there any strained relationships within your family? How will your inheritance decisions impact these dynamics?

Can I make an estate plan for my blended family?

Blended families often have unique inheritance needs due to children from previous relationships. An estate plan allows you to clearly outline your wishes and minimize the potential for confusion or conflict down the road.

What is the role of an estate attorney?

An estate planning attorney’s role is to help you craft binding legal documents to create a plan for what happens to your assets after your death, and also your wishes for your healthcare and assets if you were to become incapacitated. Estate planning attorneys should guide you throughout your life as you need to make changes to your estate plan as you move through the different chapters of life. An estate attorney should also be able to guide you through the probate process, in case you are finding yourself in that situation. Here are some other tasks an estate attorney may do that you may never even hear about:

  • Analyze the titling of your assets in your plan and work with you to move assets to your trust while properly naming beneficiaries. 
  • Raise concerns about your wishes if something may not work out how you want it to. 
  • Guide you on how to choose the right executors, beneficiaries, and other agents who you will be assigning responsibilities in your estate plan.  
  • Help you with naming guardians for your minor children and leave your wishes for how you want them raised if something were to happen to you. 
  • Advise you on healthcare and end of life decisions.
  • Review your best options to avoid major taxes on your wealth both in your lifetime and when your assets are disbursed after your death.
  • Update your plan and advise you on best options for your assets after divorce. 

What is probate?

Probate is the legal process, handled within each individual state, that settles a deceased person’s estate after they die. It involves validating their will, paying off any debts, and distributing assets to beneficiaries. Specific laws and procedures involved in probate will vary depended on where the deceased resided. This means control over the estate is out of the hands of the family. With proper estate planning the probate process can be avoided.

Why would I want to avoid probate?

There are two main reasons to avoid probate: time and money.

  • Time: Probate can be slow, taking months or even years to complete. This means your beneficiaries will have to wait to receive their inheritance.

  • Money: Probate can be expensive, with fees eating into the value of the estate. These fees can include court costs, attorney fees, and executor commissions.

  • Privacy: privacy is another important reason to consider avoiding probate. Probate is a court process, and the filings become part of the public record. This means anyone can access information about the deceased’s estate, including the value of their assets and who inherits them. In contrast, if you use certain tools to avoid probate, like a living trust, the details of your estate can remain private.

What does a probate attorney do for you?

When a person passes away and their assets are disbursed, there are laws and procedures to ensure that their belongings are distributed properly. The legal process of proving the validity of a deceased person’s will and the administering of that person’s estate is called probate. A probate attorney will help you through the probate process guiding you until the final transfers of assets take place. A probate attorney will help with all aspects of the probate process including preparing documents necessary for probate court, determining any taxes on the estate that are owed, facilitating the transfer of assets to the beneficiaries, and assisting with payment of debts owed by the deceased. 

How much does an estate plan cost?

This is probably the first of the main FAQ’s for Estate Attorneys. There isn’t always a simple answer when asking how much an estate plan costs. The plan may vary in cost depending on the complexity of your situation. The more assets and complex your family situation may be, the more your plan may cost as you have more to cover in your plan.

How do you handle probate without a lawyer?

Probate may not come to mind when thinking of FAQ’s for Estate Attorneys, but it’s an important process to know about. If you feel you are able to handle the estate without help from an attorney, there is no requirement that you have one throughout the probate process. But we can’t recommend enough having someone who is a professional that can guide you through the probate process. 

What should I ask a probate attorney?

If you are vetting attorneys to handle a probate case, here are some great questions to ask. 

  • What other areas of law do you practice?
  • What is your experience with cases similar to mine?
  • How long do you anticipate the case will take to complete?
  • Do you see any potential issues with the case?
  • How do we communicate throughout the case?
  • Can you give me an estimate of costs?

Have any other questions? Contact us.