There is hardly a day that goes by without hearing a radio commercial or seeing a television ad for “do it yourself” wills, trusts, powers of attorney and other estate planning documents. They tell you that they are valid in all fifty states and the prices seem very attractive. They also quickly note, however, that they are providing “self-help services at your specific direction” and that they cannot provide you with any kind of advice, opinion, recommendation or even an explanation. The responsibility is accordingly solely on you to evaluate the options, understand the documents you are preparing, and insure that your new estate plan will work as you intend. The documents you prepare and sign may indeed be valid in all 50 states, but do they really do what you want?
There is no question that you are the person who best knows what your goals and objectives are, but do you have the knowledge and experience to decide upon the best course of action to achieve those goals and objectives? In addition, are you in fact even sure what everything means in the “forms” being provided? You are making important decisions as you prepare an estate plan and you want to feel confident that it has all been done correctly.
A good estate planning attorney is not simply someone who pulls up a form and fills in the blanks. Rather, he or she is someone who talks with you about your goals and objectives, discusses your concerns, reviews your financial situation, makes recommendations, and assists you in making informed decisions. The experienced attorney then drafts the appropriate documents to fit your personal situation. It is an important process and your family deserves nothing less.
Consider some of the following questions which may arise as you develop your estate plan:
I have three children. Who should be the executor under my will? I have heard that the eldest should be. Is that correct? Can or should I name all three as co-executors?
One of my children is disabled and is on a governmental assistance program. Is this important? How do I plan for this disabled child?
One of my children is terrible at handling money and I’m also worried about her spouse taking control of everything. How can I address this?
This is my second marriage and I have children by my first marriage. How do I take care of my spouse and still make sure that my children by the first marriage receive an inheritance after my spouse dies?
A large portion of my assets are tied up in an IRA. Does my will cover this too? Are there any tax planning opportunities I’m missing? How do I handle it?
I don’t want to have my estate go through probate. What are my options? Should I just put death beneficiaries on all of my assets?
What if one of the beneficiaries I name in my will should predecease me? Who gets that share of the estate?
These are common examples of questions that need to be explored with experienced counsel so that you can make informed decisions, and they illustrate the importance of working with your attorney in the estate planning process. Your attorney can provide you with the guidance and counsel which is so important in this decision making process, and in making sure that the estate plan meets your goals. You have worked hard during your lifetime to create your estate and it is always recommended that you develop your estate plan with experienced legal counsel with the same dedicated effort.