What happens to your assets during and after your lifetime is basically up to you. While you might be inclined to come up with your own estate plan, ensuring that your wishes hold legal ground requires that your plan is recognized under applicable federal and state laws. More often than not, estate planning is best left to the experts. So, just what does an estate planning attorney do?
The Role of an Estate Planning Attorney
Estate planning attorneys are also commonly referred to as probate attorneys or estate law attorneys. These licensed professionals have the required knowhow of federal and state laws that might have a bearing on the inventory, valuation, disbursement, and taxation of your estate after your passing away. The role of an estate planning attorney is wide-ranging, and can include the following:
- Setting up a power of attorney
- Creating a will
- Designating beneficiaries
- Examining and analyzing property records
- Setting up trusts
- Creating or terminating businesses
- Minimizing estate tax liability
- Trying to steer clear of the probate process
- Collaborating with clients’ financial advisers and accountants
- Highlighting probable problems with their clients’ wishes and providing suitable alternatives
- Providing advice surrounding selection of executors, trustees, and guardians
- Providing advice about distribution of assets to meet philanthropic goals
- Drafting requirement-specific estate planning documents
How Does Power of Attorney Work?
Power of attorney refers to a legal document through which you (the principal) give someone else (an agent) the legal right to look after your financial matters. There are four basic types from which to choose.
- General power of attorney. The agent may carry out all acts that the principal can – which include opening and closing of accounts and managing personal finances. Incapacitation or demise of the principal revokes a general power of attorney.
- Durable power of attorney. A durable power of attorney gives an agent the right to act on your behalf. It comes with a clause that keeps the power of attorney in place even upon your incapacitation.
- Limited or special power of attorney. This gives agent rights that limit to a specific area. For example, you may use this alternative to give someone the right to sell your home on your behalf.
- Spring durable power of attorney. This option is made available in some states. It comes into effect upon the occurrence of a specified event, such as the incapacitation of the principal.
Creating a Will
While looking for will templates online is easy, finding one that suits your needs perfectly is not. This is because standard templates rarely account for diverse requirements. Holographic (handwritten) wills, while an option, often end up in probate litigation. With an estate planning attorney by your side, you can be sure that your will is tailor-made to suit your needs and is legally valid. Your attorney can also guide you when it comes to allocating your assets to different beneficiaries.
Your last will and testament give you the ability to bequeath your assets to individuals or entities of your choosing, it lets you appoint guardians for minor children, and it can also prevent the distribution of your assets based on your state’s default intestacy statutes.
The Probate Process
The probate process involves a court transferring the estate of a deceased to legal heirs and beneficiaries. It is typically played out in the public’s eye and can be time-consuming and expensive. Fortunately, your estate planning attorney can help avoid probate by designating your assets to beneficiaries in the right manner.
Even if you think that your end-of-life wishes should be easy to enforce, there is no telling what tomorrow might bring. As a result, if you wish to safeguard the interests of your loved ones after your demise, it is important that you go through your estate planning well in advance. Since this is easier said than done, seeking assistance from a reputable estate planning attorney might be in your best interest.