“Taking care of these key tasks properly limits the potential for family turmoil and possible legal battles should you become incapacitated, as well as after your death.”
Estate planning is a critical part of financial planning, but it is something that many Americans prefer to procrastinate about. However, drafting a will, health care proxy, and power of attorney are too important to leave to chance, says Next Avenue in the article “How to Find a Good Estate Planner.” An experienced estate planning attorney can help prevent critical mistakes and help you adjust your plan as circumstances change.
Here are a few tips:
Look for an estate planning attorney. An attorney who practices real estate law is not going to be up on all of the latest changes to estate and tax laws.
Next, determine if the attorney deals with families who are in similar situations to yours. An attorney who works with family-owned businesses, for instances, will be more helpful in creating an estate plan that includes tax and succession planning.
Experience matters in this area of the law. The laws of your state are just one of the many parts that the attorney needs to know by heart. The estate planning attorney who has been practicing for many years, will have a better sense of how families work, what problems crop up and how to avoid them.
Ask about costs. Don’t be shy. You want to be clear from the start what you should expect to be spending on an estate plan. The attorney should be comfortable having this discussion with you and your spouse or family member. Remember that the attorney will be able to understand the scope of work, only after they speak with you about your situation. What may seem simple to you, may be more complicated than you think.
If a trust is added, the fees are likely to increase. A trust can be used to avoid or minimize estate taxes, avoid probate, save on time and court fees and create conditions for the distribution of assets after you die.
Don’t neglect to have the attorney create a Power of Attorney form and any other advance directives you need. These vary by state, and you don’t want them to get too old, or they may become out of date.
Recognize that this is an ongoing relationship. Make sure that you are comfortable with the attorney, how the practice is run and the people who work there—receptionist, paralegals and other associates at the firm are all people you may be working with at one point or another during the process. You will be sharing very personal information with the entire team, so be sure it’s a good fit.
This is also not a one-and-done event. Having an estate plan is a lot like having a home—it requires maintenance. Every four years or so, or when large events occur in your life, you’ll need to have your will reviewed.
Your estate planning attorney should become a trusted advisor who works hand in hand with your accountant and financial advisor. Together, they should all be looking out for you and your family.