Estate planning is the process of deciding what will happen to your property after you die -- for example, by making a will and perhaps a trust. Usually, estate planning also includes making documents to direct your health care and naming someone to manage your finances if you become unable to take care of yourself.
You may be able to handle some estate planning tasks without hiring a lawyer. For example, with good do-it-yourself resources, you might make a basic will, finalize health care directives and powers of attorney, or even draft your own living trust to avoid probate court.
But if you have substantial assets, fear family disagreements, or simply feel more comfortable and confident placing your affairs into the hands of an experienced professional, it makes good sense to hire an estate planning lawyer.
What Does an Estate Planning Lawyer Do?
Among other things, an estate planning lawyer can help you:
- Clarify your estate planning goals and needs.
- Understand your estate planning options so you can make the plan that works best for you and your family.
- Name the people who will manage your affairs -- that is, who would make health care decisions for you if you become incapacitated, who would manage your finances under those circumstances, and who will wrap up your estate after you die.
- Avoid costly and possibly heartbreaking mistakes by making sure your estate planning documents are properly completed, meeting all the requirements of State law.
- Ensure that your estate planning documents work together seamlessly.
- Pass property to your loved ones without the need for the delays, expenses, and complexity of probate court.
- Plan to avoid or reduce taxes if necessary.
- Make a plan that will work for a blended or extended family, including second (or later) marriages.
- If you are a business owner, make a plan that ensures a smooth transition of your business interests.
- Head off problems with family members who may not like your plan.
Find a Good Estate Planning Lawyer
Like tax law, bankruptcy law, or divorce law, estate planning law is a specialty subject involving complex legal rules. Someone claiming to be an estate planning lawyer should be able to point to experience and deep knowledge of your state’s estate planning laws.
For an experienced estate planning lawyer, most aspects of making an estate plan are routine. Chances are good that an experienced lawyer has helped many clients with needs similar to yours. The lawyer you choose should be able to advise you on the best way to proceed with your estate plan, given your family situation, your goals, your financial circumstances, and more.
If you're going to hire an estate planning lawyer, make sure you get a good one. Do your homework and comparison shop before you hire someone to represent you.