A good estate attorney won’t just avoid the costly mistakes made by non-professionals, but will actually provide you with opportunities to save money, and thus justify your legal costs.
Here are just a few ways that estate attorneys can benefit your estate.
1. Drafting a trust avoids probate. As we discussed in a previous blog post, it’s actually illegal for a non-lawyer to draft a living trust for another person. While you can have a tax preparer file your taxes or a CPA handle your finances, only a lawyer can act on your behalf to create a trust. This is because trusts are complex legal documents which require an understanding of tax law, probate, property law, government benefits, and much more.
Trusts are powerful legal tools, as they allow you to avoid probate, which is required for wills. Rather than your inheritors wrangling in court and incurring extensive legal fees which drain your estate, a trust makes it clear who gets what. In addition, a trust can be used to name legal guardians for any dependents you have (which is another reason why only a lawyer can create a trust).
In order to capitalize on the financial benefits of a trust, you need an estate attorney.
2. Having a lawyer establish power of attorney sidesteps the need for conservatorships. Let’s say that you’re a healthy, self-supporting adult. But one day, you suffer a debilitating stroke, and you can no longer care for yourself.
When this happens, the state steps in, and a judge appoints someone to act as your conservator and help manage your finances. If you’ve been married for many years to someone dependable and in good health, or you only have one child, or you have a family that is universally supportive of one another, then this can be a simple and easy affair. But if there is a history of infighting, or it’s not clear who should act on your behalf, the process of appointing a conservator can be a legal nightmare.
Who can be trusted to care for you day to day? Who can handle your healthcare needs? Who has the ability to manage your finances in a responsible way? Finding a single person who can handle all of this and thus act as your conservator can be time-consuming and costly, especially when family members start to lawyer up.
This is why it’s wise to hire an estate attorney to draft a power of attorney, which allows you to name one or more persons to handle your medical decisions, oversee your financial interests, manage daily affairs, or all of the above. This ensures that someone you trust will handle your needs, and avoids expensive legal fights.
3. Attorneys have the experience necessary to draft clear, unambiguous documents that will hold up in court. It may seem logical to save hundreds or even thousands of dollars by writing out your own trust, will, and other estate planning documents. After all, it’s easy to just say what you want, right? Unfortunately, a legal document only has value and merit if it will stand up in court. Non-experts tend to use language that is vague and ambiguous in a legal context.
Worse, you may draft a legal document that attempts to do things that it doesn’t actually have the power to do. For instance, while a living trust can be used to name guardians for your dependents, a will cannot. Your will may say in big bold letters that you want your sibling to care for your children, but the matter will still be left to the state to decide, as a will simply can’t be used to name guardians.
Estate planning documents are like tools—they each have their specific use. You can’t use a screwdriver to turn a hex bolt, or a socket wrench to pull a nail. In the same way, you can’t use the wrong estate planning document for the wrong legal task. Regardless of whether your intent is clear or not, improperly prepared legal documents can result in your estate passing into probate, your dependents being assigned guardians you didn’t choose, and so on.
If you care about protecting your estate, and more importantly, your family, then it pays to hire an estate planning attorney. It will cost more up front, but you may save your family thousands of dollars, dozens or even hundreds of hours spent in attorneys’ offices and courtrooms, and the heartache of seeing your wishes go unheeded.
Advance Planning, A Law Corporation has the expertise necessary to prevent these costly, heartbreaking mistakes. To learn more, give us a call at (209) 456-5547, or send us a message using our contact form.